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Requiem for the Big East Rookies Cut by NBA Teams

Not all Big East stars that tried to make a NBA roster were as successful as Dunn, Ellenson, and Ochefu.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Butler vs Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Monday marked the last day for NBA teams around the league to make adjustments. They needed to finalize their roster before the NBA season officially began on Tuesday night.

First rounders Kris Dunn (Providence) and Henry Ellenson (Marquette) are gearing up for their NBA debuts. Dunn was picked fifth overall in the 2016 draft, going to the Timberwolves. Minnesota currently holds five point guards on its opening day roster--Dunn, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Tyus Jones, and John Lucas III. Meanwhile, Ellenson went 18th overall to the Detroit Pistons, where he joins a frontcourt headlined by Andre Drummond.

There were also a number of other Big East stars that tried to make NBA rosters, and some tried the hard way as undrafted free agents.

Daniel Ochefu (Villanova) was the only successful one of the bunch, making the Washington Wizards’ 15-man roster. Through six preseason games, Ochefu averaged 13.1 minutes per game, shooting 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) on the floor. His best game came in a 124-119 loss to the Sacramento Kings, in which he scored six points, grabbed four rebounds, and notched four steals.

His teammate, Ryan Arcidiacono, wasn’t able to obtain the same success. Arcidiacono played in just three of the San Antonio’s preseason games, the lowest out of anyone on the Spurs roster. During that stretch, he played a combined 48 minutes, going just 2-for-7 (28.6 percent) overall for five points. He had 10 assists to four turnovers. It was a far cry from his days at Villanova, where he played in a program-high 144 games throughout his four years as a Wildcat, tallying 1,604 points and 535 assists. He was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Villanova’s national championship run and assisted in the game-winning shot by Kris Jenkins. With a balanced roster for San Antonio, it wouldn’t have made sense to have four point guards on its roster. Especially when the Spurs have a future Hall of Fame player in Tony Parker, longtime reserve Patty Mills, and first round pick Dejounte Murray (Washington).

Similar to the logjam Arcidiacono faced, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera walked into an unfavorable situation in Chicago. At Georgetown, his 1,919 points is good enough for the program’s fifth-best career scoring mark, finishing right behind college and NBA great Alonzo Mourning. Smith-Rivera has been one of the Hoyas’ top players for the last three years and was usually amongst the top scorers in the Big East. He demonstrated an ability to score from anywhere on the court. As an undrafted free agent for the Bulls, he had a tall mountain to climb. Chicago had made many offseason moves, particularly affecting its backcourt.

Right now, the Bulls are headlined by the trio of Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and Dwyane Wade. Butler and Wade are listed as shooting guards, the same position Smith-Rivera would play. Aside from them, he would also have had to compete against lottery pick Denzel Valentine (Michigan State). There’s even more depth and bodies at the point guard position. This crowded backcourt barely had any room for Smith-Rivera, and it showed in his two minutes of logged playtime during the preseason.

Butler’s Kellen Dunham rounds off the group of Big East stars who tried to make a NBA roster as an undrafted free agent. It was only a matter of time before the Memphis Grizzlies cut him, as he did not play in a single preseason game. Dunham, who averaged over 16 points per game at Butler, improved as a shooter with each passing year. He saved his best for last, shooting 43.8 percent overall and 42.9 percent from long range. Despite this, Memphis opted to go for its veteran shooting guards instead, with the likes of Vince Carter, Tony Allen, and 25-year old Troy Daniels.

However, Ben Bentil may have gotten it the worst. Bentil was drafted by the Boston Celtics late in the second round after an explosive sophomore season. He scored over 21 points per game and was a key part alongside Dunn at Providence, acting as a piece of one of the best one-two punches in the conference. He wasn’t too hot during the three preseason games he appeared in. He averaged 13.0 minutes per game, making only 5-of-14 (35.7 percent) shot attempts. He missed all six of his 3-point attempts. The 6-8 forward was eventually cut by the Celtics. The Indiana Pacers scooped him up on Monday, only to waive him shortly after.

These players are at a crossroads. They fell short of making it onto an opening day roster. Now, they decide between the D-League or possibly go overseas. We’ll be keeping an eye on where their basketball journeys may take them.