Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner weigh NBA draft 2nd round hopes vs. Creighton return

Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner weigh NBA draft 2nd round hopes vs. a CU return

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CHICAGO — When the whistles, squeaky sneakers and whispers beyond the concourse at the NBA Draft Combine fade out, there’s a sound. Less annoying than a buzz, not as noticeable as complete silence, but there’s somewhat of a collective murmur when every decision maker’s internal wheel begins to spin.

It’s typically at the sight of a play; A surprising short roll pass to the corner from Adama Sanogo or a third straight jumper from Tristan Kukcevic might evoke it. Then come the poker faces from general managers. The coach leaning into someone’s ear. Or the “damn, OK,” under the breath of draft writers.

For this gym filled with dozens of NBA hopefuls, almost every moment matters.

In its current state, the combine is for those battling with their decision to jump to the pros or trying to change their projected draft position. With the exception of a few first-round talents, almost every player involved in the two-day scrimmage period is a second rounder or free agent.

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Coaches configure rotations and sets as head coaches watch from afar. Officials try not to miss the moment Oscar Tshiebwe shuffles his feet in hopes of a call up or more frequent work. Players compete to make the next couple of weeks — and a life altering decision — easier.

That’s where Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner and Trey Alexander come in.

Kalkbrenner, the 7-foot-1 walking defense who has allowed the Bluejays to remodel their on-court identity over the past few seasons. Alexander, the promising 6-foot-4 combo guard who, upon return, would essentially be handed the keys to one of college basketball’s most efficient offenses.

Both had good enough seasons helping push CU to the Elite Eight that they could ponder their NBA Draft hopes.

Neither had strong enough weeks in Chicago to kick their feet up through the end of June.

The big man’s second day was inspiring, showing off the defensive instincts and efficiency around the rim that brought him this far. There are still obvious areas where Kalkbrenner will need to develop before he escapes the final 10 picks of the second round, which can be the Bermuda Triangle for NBA hopefuls.

After a rough start to Day 1, Alexander cleaned things up to finish with a complete display of how good a scorer he is. But scouts knew much of that already.

Teams want to see Alexander step into the combo guard, pick-and-roll maestro role that Ryan Nembhard and lineups surrounded by reserves probably didn’t allow. Day 2 showed even less of that.

For Kalkbrenner, a year might not make a monumental difference for his stock, which is why these waters essentially couldn’t hurt him. For Alexander, many believe another year of school is the difference between him being a 2023 free agency steal and a 2024 first rounder with an instant role.

I’m not sure either have had projections better than the 45th pick, with most of those coming in the final 10 picks of this draft. I’ve heard whispers of teams expressing interest in Alexander that hold picks in the 40s, though I’m not sure he’s a high priority at that range.

Several of the teams Kalkbrenner interviewed with in Chicago were those that hold the final few picks in the draft, the least reliable range considering how many trades could happen within it. Either way, without a consistent 3-point jumper, Kalkbrenner’s game feels like an acquired taste. The conversation could be different a year from now, and it feels like he’s braced himself for that.

“Whatever the right opportunity to get better with that comes along, there’s no one right way to go about it,” Kalkbrenner said at the combine. “If it’s going to the NBA, it’s going to the NBA. If it’s going back to school to get better at it, it’s going back to school. We just gotta take in all the information and make a decision from there.”

To my understanding, Kalkbrenner just wants to be in the spot that’ll help him reach that next level of development. I’m not sure how much promise there is for him toward the end of the draft or in the free agent pool that outweighs his safety blanket at CU.

What seems to be keeping Alexander at an in-between is the fire burning inside him to play in the NBA. When we spoke on Creighton’s media day ahead of the season, he seemed to have everything figured out. Even while Big East media wrote him off with virtually zero preseason acknowledgement, he knew.

He talked about being drafted someday, being excited to play people he was familiar with – like Nick Smith Jr. – who were already being discussed in draft circles. I sat there thinking he meant after his junior or senior seasons. Then he made it clear he thought he could have a good enough sophomore season to test the waters.

And he did. And he’s understandably weighing his options. But now, he’s face to face with the league and in constant communication with teams and other prospects. For a guy who thought he could be here before anyone else, it’s safe to imagine that it’s difficult to let this process slip away for another year.

“I think I’ll have a lot more opportunity in the college season to showcase that I can play on the ball,” Alexander said, “but at the same time, if I’m in the draft and I’m able to find that fit, I feel like I have to stay.”

That fit might not come. Not yet, at least. Alexander is set on being drafted. On hearing his name called and the safety that comes with it. So much so that it might pull him back to Omaha.

“I wouldn’t want to be one of those undrafted guys,” Alexander said. “I think it just puts you in a cycle that’s kind of hard to get out of.”

As the timer on both players’ decisions dwindles, it feels like variables would have to shift to keep them from returning to Creighton.

Kalkbrenner, likely a season of halfway reliable 3-point shooting away from being able to let his pro day speak for him, would need to feel really confident in his discussions with a team — whether that’s at the end of the draft or in UDFA — and what next year looks like for him.

Alexander, perhaps one impressive season as a consistent lead guard away from the Green Room, would likely have to change his stance on being drafted.

One thing feels certain: With how hard CU’s staff has worked to keep both players, both would be returning to situations seemingly catered to them. Situations that, should they succeed, could end with one or both of them avoiding next year’s murmurs altogether.

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