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SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers keep their draft pick; will they choose Ball?

All right, Lakers fans. You can all take a deep breath now.

For the third year in a row, the Lakers dodged a bullet by holding on to their number one draft pick.

That means Philadelphia gets the Lakers’ number one draft pick next year, no matter where the Lakers finish. Hopefully, next year it won’t matter.

The Lakers are still in rebuilding mode, they just are one brick closer to the finished product.

We won’t know for another five weeks who the Lakers will draft (anyone want to bet Lonzo Ball?), but the Lakers are finally to the point where they are one or two veteran players away from possibly contending for a playoff berth. That is provided those veterans are not named Timofey Mosgov or Luol Deng.

It is now time for Magic Johnson to work his magic and point the Lakers in a direction that leads them back to the playoffs. Lakers fans are tired of watching the Clippers flame out in the first round of the playoffs and watching LeBron James play in the NBA Finals every year.

They want to see their team in the playoffs.

With this year’s draft pick, the Lakers will have four consecutive lottery picks. For a team that used to draft in the high 20s, that is a draft bonanza.

The problem with lottery picks, however, is you never know how they are going to develop. Let’s look at the last three Lakers picks.

Julius Randle was drafted after his freshman year at Kentucky. He was a power forward at Kentucky, but at 6-7, he is too small to play power forward most of the time in the NBA. Randle knows how to get to the basket, can lead the team on the break and can rebound.

After missing 99.9 percent of his rookie season with a broken leg, he is more like a third-year pro than a fourth-year pro and he still needs to prove he can hit an outside jump shot with regularity and compete on an every-night basis.

The 2017-18 will be a make-or-break year for Randle’s development.

D’Angelo Russell was the Lakers second pick overall in the 2015 draft. A point guard out of Ohio State, Russell was another one-and-done freshman who still needs a lot of seasoning.

Russell is not from the traditional point guard mold, one that looks to set his teammates up first. He is a shoot-first point guard, much like Russell Westbrook, but without the explosiveness.

Like Randle, he doesn’t bring it every night, which is possibly just part of the growing-up process. The Lakers spent the second half of last season trying to make Russell a shooting guard, a position he might be best suited for, especially if the Lakers draft Ball.

Brandon Ingram was the second overall pick last season. A lean 6-9, Ingram can play anywhere, especially once he adds muscle to his 190-pound frame.

Last season, he showed he can play the point and either wing and defend those positions and more.

He has the most upside of any current Laker, and could turn into the next Kevin Durant — a long and lanky player who can score from anywhere on the court. He and Ball could bring back memories of Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

The Lakers have other key pieces from recent drafts who can fill in the rest of the rotation. Jordan Clarkson has proven himself to be a steady NBA player over his three years with the team.

A second round pick of the Washington Wizards in 2014 who was traded the following day to the Lakers for cash, Clarkson might be the odd man out of the starting lineup if the Lakers draft Ball, but he has the skills to become a solid sixth man, the first guy off the bench who can score and play some defense.

The same can be said about Larry Nance Jr. A late first-round pick (number 27 overall) in 2015, Nance has some of the same skills Julius Randle has, but he is more consistent night in and night out.

Like Randle, Nance needs to work on his outside shooting, but he is a dependable backup at either forward position and also can cover some of the smaller centers in the low post.

And then there is the Lakers’ diamond in the rough, the young player who could determine by himself how soon the Lakers return to the playoffs.

Ivica Zubac is a 20-year-old from Croatia who impressed a lot of people during his rookie year. At 7-1, 265 pounds, Zubac is big enough to protect the rim, rebound and provide offense inside.

A second round draft choice in 2016 (32 pick overall), he averaged 7.5 points in 38 games last season, before spraining his ankle and missing the last two weeks of the season. Zubac could be the big man the Lakers have been missing since Pau Gasol left, that the team hoped Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard would become.

Zubac, Ball, Russell and Ingram could develop into a foursome that would rival the foursome up the coast at Golden State.

All they have to do is grow up together. Fast.

Chris Moye, right, a National College Resource Foundation Movement member, congratulates Lynwood High School junior Tyshawn Hurst after he was offered a full-ride scholarship to Central State University during the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Combine April 29 and 30. The two-day event had more than 250 student athletes showcasing their football skills for representatives from 23 HBCUs. (Courtesy photo)

SIGNING DAYS: You’ve heard of the NFL Combine where NFL teams evaluate college players for the draft, or pro days, where colleges invite pro scouts to their campuses to watch draft-eligible players tryout.

Lynwood High School hosted a similar event April 29-30 on campus. Lynwood High teamed with the National College Resources Foundation to what was being called California’s first historically black colleges and universities combine.

More than 250 high school and junior college athletes sprinted, weight lifted and demonstrated their tackling, receiving and other football skills for recruiters from 23 historically black colleges and universities.

And when the two days were done, three Lynwood High athletes walked away with scholarships.

Senior Jalen Powell received an admission and full-ride scholarship offer to Langston University and an admission offer from Graceland University.

Senior Greg Shelton received admission and full-ride scholarship offers from Virginia Union University, Langston University and Lane College.

And Lynwood High junior Tyshawn Hurst received admission and a full-ride scholarship offer to Central State University.

Shelton said the football combine was a positive experience because he met with coaches from around the country who used their college education to leave behind similar socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It felt amazing because I did not expect to get admission and full-ride scholarship offers to three colleges,” Shelton said. “It’s great to know that I can continue my education at these schools and that I can be surrounded by people who will motivate me to do my best.”

The first day’s events tested the student athletes through the bench press, vertical and broad jump, 40-yard dash time, pro shuttle and other drills. Some 125 students advanced to the second day of the event, where more drills and scrimmages were conducted until the college representatives made their recruitment decisions.

“This was an amazing opportunity and it made some of my students’ dreams come true,” Lynwood High football head coach Kendric Knox said. “They’ll now get to play football for such great institutions. The best thing is that now these kids will get a quality education when they leave Lynwood. My players and I were definitely blessed to be a part of this event.”

Since the event was a success for the student athletes and the colleges, the HBCU football combine has a strong chance of becoming an annual event.

Reggie Morris Jr.

COACH HIRING: Culver City High School has announced the hiring of Reggie Morris as the school’s new boys’ basketball coach.

Morris served as an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount University last year after successfully leading Redondo Beach High School, St. Bernard High School and Leuzinger High School to a combined three CIF championships and one state title over the course of 14 years of coaching. Morris coached Russell Westbrook, now a star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, when he was at Leuzinger.

Morris said he was excited to be hired at Culver City.

“This is a school that’s great at everything — academics, athletics, the arts,” he said. “It’s amazing how the community rallies around its schools to ensure that every program is outstanding.”

Reggie’s father, Reggie Morris Sr., was a longtime basketball coach in South Los Angeles, leading Manual Arts High to a state championship in 1988.

Morris Sr. coached Morris Jr. in 1996 at Locke High School. The younger Morris averaged 15 points a game and earned all-league honors that season.

The Morrises are the only father-son coaching team to win state championships.

The younger Reggie led Redondo Union to the Division II state championship in 2013.

 

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