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E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr. face off at NBA G League Elite Camp

With NBA Combine invitations on the line, Ohio State’s two best players went head to head showcasing their skills.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Ohio State Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 Ohio State men’s basketball season will hinge on two huge variables that should be resolved — one way or another — in the next week or two. Those two variables are:

Is E.J. Liddell coming back for another year?

and

Is Duane Washington Jr. coming back for another year?

The two put their names into the NBA Draft pool after the 2020-21 season concluded in April, but have until early next month to withdraw and keep their collegiate eligibility. With the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19, Liddell would have three seasons left and Washington Jr. would have two.

Neither Buckeye received an invite to the NBA Combine last week, but there is one more way to get into the combine — showing out at the NBA G League Elite Camp. The G League Camp hosts 40 players who were not invited to the combine, but, according to the G League website:

“A select number of players from the NBA G League Elite Camp will be invited to participate in the 2021 NBA Draft Combine based on their performance. The NBA Draft Combine will be held June 21-27 at Wintrust Arena and the Marriott Marquis in Chicago.”

In essence, the G League camp is a tryout for the NBA Draft Combine, which in turn is a tryout for the NBA Draft, which will be held on July 29. Washington Jr. and Liddell are two of the players that took part in the mini-camp this past weekend. The camp actually wraps up today — Monday — so the final few combine invitations will be extended by the end of the day.

The combine then begins this evening and will run through June 27. Both the G League Camp and combine are being held in Chicago, so those few lucky players who get last minute invites will not be traveling far — but it’ll make for one busy Monday.

Participants at the G League camp go through strength and agility drills as well as five-on-five games, which started yesterday afternoon. And for the first time ever, we got to see Liddell play against his friend and teammate, Washington Jr.

Liddell was placed on “Team 1”, which also included Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and Mike Smith, Nebraska’s Dalano Banton, and Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins. Washington Jr. landed on “Team 2”, which also included Michigan’s Chaundee Brown, whose name still gives me war flashbacks.

As fate would have it, Teams 1 and 2 faced off in the first scrimmage of the day, with Washington Jr.’s team coming out on top, 80-74. This may surprise you, but Washington Jr. led his team in shot attempts, scoring 13 points on 5-12 shooting, including 2-8 from beyond the arc. He also had two rebounds, two assists, three turnovers, and a team-high +/- of plus-20 in just under 22 minutes of play.

Liddell started for Team 1, scoring five points on 2-5 shooting in roughly 21 minutes of floor time. He also ripped down six rebounds, dished out two assists, and had one of his team’s eight steals. Three of Liddell’s five shots came from downtown, and he connected on one of them from the corner, off the clean feed from Banton:

Other notable performances from the first game included Texas Tech’s Mac McClung (11 points, 2 steals, 2 rebounds, 1 block) and Michigan’s (formerly Coastal Carolina’s) Devante Jones. McClung has already announced he is “all in” for the NBA Draft and is not returning to TTU. Jones transferred from Coastal Carolina to Michigan this offseason, but has not decided yet if he will remain in the draft or enroll at Michigan.

Here is the full box score from Liddell and Washington Jr.’s matchup, which you can also find on the NBA G League’s website:

Game One — Courtesy of gleague.nba.com

Notable performances from game two — which included zero Buckeyes and fewer Big Ten players — were Louisville’s Carlik Jones (23 points, 4 rebounds), Clemson’s Aamir Simms (13 points, 5 rebounds), and Marquette’s Dawson Garcia (19 points, 6 rebounds).

The G League Elite Camp doesn’t seem to have a schedule posted, so it’s unclear if the final day of the camp will be focused on drills or five-on-five games. However, with Liddell and Washington Jr.’s teams having already played each other, it’s unlikely there will be a round two between the pair of Buckeyes whose collegiate futures still sit in limbo.

If one (or both) of them are invited to the NBA Combine, they’ll extend their stay in Chicago for one more week and try to impress NBA scouts, executives and coaches to get on their radars for next month’s draft. If neither is invited to the combine, they’ll have the next 16 days to decide if they want to remain in the draft or return to Ohio State for another season.

The fan and alum in me hopes that both return to Ohio State, because this team could be really special if they do. But the realist in me knows that whether you’re playing in the NBA or overseas, professional basketball pays — a lot. If either or both of them choose that route, good luck to them. All Ohio State fans can do now is sit back and wait for the chips to fall.