Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia center Sagaba Konate (50) celebrates a basket against Marshall during the second-round victory in the NCAA tournament.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Given Sagaba Konate’s dramatic improvements as a sophomore, West Virginia coaches weren’t surprised Tuesday when the forward/center opted to submit paperwork for the NBA draft. Konate told them he does not intend to hire an agent, meaning there’s a strong chance he’ll withdraw from the draft by the June 11 deadline.

Assistant Erik Martin, just minutes after returning from the Final Four in San Antonio, said the evaluation process of working out for NBA scouts can help returning players, just as it did last year for Jevon Carter.

“It makes sense because Sags had a great year,” said Martin, who works with West Virginia’s big men. “Plus, Sags is intriguing because he hasn’t played basketball that long. I think this will give you an idea of what you need to work on to get to the next level.”

The brawny 6-foot-8 Konate started 36 of the Mountaineers’ 37 games this season, finishing second in Division I with 116 blocks. His offensive development became noteworthy as he paired low-post moves with 17-foot range on his jumper. Konate’s scoring increased from 4.1 points as a freshman to 10.8 points, while his rebounding average climbed from 2.8 to 7.6 rebounds. At the foul line he improved from 63 percent to 78 percent, and his fouls-per-minute declined.

In a statement released by the school, head coach Bob Huggins said he expects Konate to go through the draft proces “in a systematic and professional manner by exploring the situation and leaving open his option to return.”

Carter made a purely exploratory move last April, always intending on returning to West Virginia. That stood in contrast to 2016 when All-Big 12 forward Devin Williams remained in the draft only to go unselected.

As of Tuesday, 19 underclassmen had announced their intentions to sign with an agent and go full-steam into the draft, a group that includes Oklahoma guard Trae Young and Texas 7-footer Mo Bamba.

Another 29 underclassmen — including Kansas State’s Barry Brown, Texas guard Kerwin Roach and three Marshall players — have said they’ll test the waters. The NCAA has tweaked its rules to allow players to enter and withdraw from the draft multiple times.

Immediately after Villanova’s crowning victory over Michigan on Monday night, the Westgate LV SuperBook in Las Vegas listed West Virginia among its top 11 favorites to win next year’s national title at 30/1 odds. That presumes a return by Konate, of course.

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