Normally the NBA season would be underway by this time of year.
Everyone is well aware that 2020 has been anything but normal.
With the NBA season scheduled to begin just before Christmas and play a 72-game schedule — instead of 82 like normal years, there is still time for the NBA Draft. It will take place on Nov. 18. The draft was originally planned to be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but will now be conducted at ESPN’s facilities in Bristol, Connecticut, via videoconferencing.
Aggie fans will be interested to see if Utah State guard Sam Merrill gets his name called in the two-round draft. Most mock drafts that include one of the best players in USU history have him going mid to late in the second round.
Merrill was invited to the NBA combine, but did not participate. He has interviewed or talked to most of the 30 NBA teams after averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game as a senior.
The draft begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. For athletes not drafted, free agent negotiations begin on Friday.
The 6-foot-5 Merrill has gotten good reviews and has been touted as one of the best shooters in the field. The 24-year-old from Bountiful is listed as a shooting guard, but played both guard positions at USU.
If Merrill were to get drafted, it would end a long drought for Aggies. The last USU player to get drafted was Greg Grant in 1986. That was when there were more rounds as Grant was taken by the Detroit Pistons in the sixth round.
Should Merrill make an NBA roster, he would be the first since 2004, when Desmond Penigar played 10 games with the Orlando Magic.
Merrill signed with Priority Sports and Entertainment, which is based in Chicago and Sherman Oaks, California. Priority Sports is one of the largest independently owned sports agencies in the U.S.
“They are one of the more successful agencies around,” Merrill said. “They have a pretty big clientele in the NBA. I had multiple connections to Mark Bartelstein, who is the head guy there. (Former Aggie great) Jaycee Carroll is there, so is Justin Hamilton, who is from Utah. He (Bartelstein) is good friends with the Ainge family. Danny (Ainge) and Austin (Ainge) spoke very highly of this agency. They are a group that can open doors because they are one of the more powerful agencies, but they also do things the right way. It was an easy decision for me to join them.”
Having grown up in Utah, Merrill is a Jazz fan. However, he is willing to go to any team that will give him a chance.
“I would love to play for any team,” Merrill said in an interview earlier this year with The Herald Journal. “At this point, anywhere I could play would be a blessing.”
Merrill became the second leading career scorer in school and Mountain West Conference history with 2,197 points. Merrill was also second in career assists at USU with 477 and finished his college career as the school and league record holder in free throw percentage, converting 89.1 percent over four years. The two-time conference tournament MVP — also a first in MW history — played more than 4,000 minutes for his career and is the only player over the last 20 years that has scored 20 or more points in six consecutive conference tournament games and led his team to victory in all six games.
He concluded his Aggie career by hitting the game-winning 3-point shot against No. 5 San Diego State in the MW Tournament championship game in early March. A few days later the season was shutdown because of COVID.