As the night wore long and late, Utah State guard and Bountiful native Sam Merrill finally got the word.
The Milwaukee Bucks selected Merrill with the final pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday night.
Merrill waited through seeing other Mountain West surprises, like Boise State’s Justinian Jessup to Golden State, going ahead of him.
But the 6-foot-5 guard landed on the team with last year’s best record, though his name was announced on draft night to the New Orleans Pelicans, who have a proposed trade to send him to Milwaukee as part of a deal for Jrue Holiday.
The Bucks appeared to have secured Bogdan Bogdanovic in a trade with Sacramento, but that seemingly fell through. Though Bogdanovic may still be traded there, or sign as a free agent, Merrill may have an opportunity to play bench minutes at shooting guard.
“The Luka Doncic of the Mountain West ... he can really shoot it,” Jay Bilas said on ESPN’s draft broadcast.
Bilas was mirroring analysis from Mike Schmitz, who said scouts and executives compared Merrill to Doncic “for his step-back 3s, cerebral game and ability to get to all of his spots by way of deception, forceful change of direction and strength,” Schmitz wrote on ESPN.com. “Although clearly not in the same stratosphere as the 6-8 Doncic, Merrill did show that same type of clutch gene as a primary shot creator.”
After being named Standard-Examiner All-Area MVP in 2014, Merrill went on to win Mountain West Player of the Year honors for the 2018-19 season and was two-time MWC Tournament MVP.
The final MVP honor came when Merrill scored 29, 27 and 27 points in consecutive nights of the tournament, capped by draining a deep, contested 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to defeat No. 5 San Diego State and win the tournament title. The college basketball season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic four days later, and the 26-8 Aggies didn’t get their shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Merrill played 132 games at Utah State, starting 118 at an iron-man workload of 35 minutes per game in the final 101 games of his career. His frame and durability, combined with his shooting prowess — Merrill shot 42% from the 3-point line on 759 college attempts — had him sneaking onto draft boards this summer.
Tony Jones, who covers the Utah Jazz for The Athletic, reports Merrill has signed a two-year deal with the Bucks, with 1.5 years and $1.4 million guaranteed.
“The former Bountiful High star has officially made the NBA,” Jones wrote.
Merrill is the first Aggie to be drafted since Greg Grant in 1986. Only one Utah State player has appeared in an NBA game since 1979 — Desmond Penigar played 10 games for Orlando in 2004 — so Merrill is breaking a long USU drought.
Utah State says its the first time since 1968 that Aggies have been taken in the first or second rounds of a year’s NBA and NFL drafts after the Green Bay Packers, also in Wisconsin like the Bucks, took quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in April.
BYU senior forward Yoeli Childs turned heads in the pre-draft process with elite measurements and performances in combine-like drills.
Childs was not drafted, but his athleticism — and averaging 22.2 points and 9 rebounds while becoming a near 50% 3-point shooter as a senior — should have him high on the list for teams looking to add a high-value addition in rookie free agency.