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Draft prospects test the waters in early workouts with Phoenix Suns

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

PHOENIX — The math just doesn’t add up.

The number of underclassmen who have declared for the 2016 NBA Draft is nearly double the number of available draft picks.

The NBA recently announced 117 college players — plus 45 international players — filed as early-entry candidates.

There are 60 picks in the draft.

Of course not all of those underclassmen will remain under consideration for teams; many are simply testing the waters.

This year, the NCAA began allowing its players to enter the draft, participate in the NBA Draft Combine and work out for teams without jeopardizing their college eligibility, as long as they didn’t hire an agent. Those players then have 10 days following the combine to decide whether or not to withdraw their names from the draft.

The deadline this year is May 25.

“It’s always hard because you kind of find the fine line which keeps the coaches in college happy and us happy. We met in the middle so it gives them time to go through a few workouts, go through Chicago,” Phoenix Suns assistant general manager Pat Connelly said, referring to the new rule, which was a collaboration between the NCAA, NBA and National Association of Basketball Coaches.

“It seems like maybe a few more guys are trying it and taking advantage of the new rules, but I think it’s good for everybody to kind of have more time to make a true evaluation and make a decision on their end of what they want to do.”

Of the 10 players the Suns have had in town through two days of pre-draft workouts, five have been underclassmen, four of whom don’t have representation yet.

“It’s a total win for the players,” Purdue freshman forward Caleb Swanigan said. “It’s given us an advantage to be able to see if — for guys like me, that are just borderline guys, that aren’t for sure lottery picks, that aren’t for sure even late second-round picks. It gives us an idea of what we need to work on or just what an NBA team wants to see from us.”

Providence sophomore forward Ben Bentil called the new rule a blessing.

“You get to enjoy (the pre-draft process), have fun; play against the best players in the country as well. There’s no pressure,” he said.

Bentil, who led the Big East in scoring at 21.1 points per game — almost 15 points better than his first year — worked out for the Suns on Friday in a six-player group of second-round hopefuls that also included underclassmen forwards Daniel Hamilton of Connecticut and Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin.

Hamilton, a sophomore, has hired an agent.

“I believe in my game and I believe in what I’m capable of,” he said. “No matter what people say about me I’ll always be ready, and I just felt confident in what I’m capable of doing.”

Hayes, however, is still weighing a senior-year return.

“It’s a great option. It’s something that, I’m sure, a lot of players looking back now at our class wish they would’ve had the opportunity to do. Try to learn a little about yourself,” he said. “You go in there and do what you can. Either you’ll perform well and get drafted or you do what you do and then the team tells you what they’d like to see you work on. You go back, make yourself better, make your team better and go at it again next year.”

Hayes met with the Suns at the combine.

Friday’s workout also featured three seniors: Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy, Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell and Oregon State guard Gary Payton II.

College players had always been able to explore potential NBA draft interest, but since 2009 their window had been much shorter — the day before the spring signing period in April — to remove their name from draft consideration.

“We leave it up to them,” Connelly said. “We’ll give them our feedback. I’m sure they’ve worked out for other teams as well, and they’ll take that all in and make the most informed decision they can based on that information. They have a lot of people — their college coaches, their family, their friends — and the interaction here of going through these workouts will help them make a more informed decision on what they want to do going forward.”

For Hayes, a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season after leading Wisconsin in both points and assists, the decision to turn pro “really just depends on the team,” he said. “If the Suns tell me we want you at whatever pick, that makes my decision — or if another team does the same thing — if not, then the decision makes itself.”

Added Swanigan, who also met with the Suns at the combine, “It’s just, ‘are you going to take me or not’ that’s the biggest thing. If not, I’ll go back to school and work on my game (and) get better. It won’t bother me if I have to go back to school, and it won’t bother me being the 60th pick. It’s just all about not cheating yourself and working hard.”

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