New York Lizards coach B.J. O'Hara will have the No. 1 pick and three of the first seven selections at his disposal Monday when the MLL conducts its virtual draft.

MLL Coaches Prepare for Unusual Draft with Hopes of Salvaging Season

B.J. O’Hara is used to being No. 1, just not in the draft.

O’Hara has guided two different Major League Lacrosse teams to a combined four league championships. But after his first season as the New York Lizards coach resulted in a disappointing 5-11 finish, O’Hara found himself in the catbird seat of what was supposed to be one of the most stacked drafts in professional lacrosse history.

“This class originally was as deep and talented a class as there’s ever been, but now that’s changed,” O’Hara said. “There’s still a lot of really good talent in it, but it’s not as deep as it once was.”

The NCAA’s decision to grant a blanket waiver to all spring student-athletes whose seasons were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed draft boards, with so many prospects deciding to use that fifth year to pursue graduate school and another shot at Memorial Day weekend. That’s not to mention those who would choose to play in the Premier Lacrosse League instead.

“We might be flying blind a little bit on the draft,” O’Hara said. “We’re trying to learn as much information as we can through our network of coaches and relationships, and social media, believe it or not.”

“We might be flying blind a little bit on the draft.” — New York Lizards coach B.J. O'Hara

The MLL draft will be conducted virtually Monday, with the selections being announced on league and team social media channels starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. New York has the No. 1 pick and three of the first seven selections.

Philadelphia Barrage coach and general manager Spencer Ford likened the uncertainty to when MLL held its drafts in January, before the college season.

“We called it drafting blind,” said Ford, who previously had front-office roles with the Chesapeake Bayhawks and Atlanta Blaze. “That’s the closest we’ve been to this.”

Last month, MLL established a portal for college seniors to register for the draft. But coaches will surely reach beyond that group for enticing players whose rights would be valuable even if they do decide to return to school.

“I’ve got guys on my draft board who I like and want to draft and who think they’re going to play pro lacrosse, but they’re not going to know maybe for another two or three weeks about going back to grad school,” Bayhawks coach Tom Mariano said. “My approach with them has been, you have to do what’s right for you in your life. If you’re a good player and we draft you, then we’ll have your rights for next year.”

Last year, while Mariano was still with the now-defunct Florida Launch, he drafted High Point goalie Tim Troutner at No. 2 overall. Some found the selection peculiar. But Mariano had heard great things about Troutner and that he was planning to move to Florida. He thought he had a good chance of signing him.

But the Launch folded and Troutner, an Annapolis, Md., native, never moved to Florida. He signed with the PLL and was named Rookie of the Year. That’s how quickly the sands shift in pro lacrosse.

“I’ve had starters quit because of work the week before a game. Or you’re flying somebody in two days before the game, and they retire,” Mariano said. “You have to be malleable.”

“There’s always a little bit unknown in the draft,” he added. “But this is the most unknown and nerve-wracking draft that hopefully we ever face.”

The MLL website has identified several draft prospects in a series of profiles over the last two weeks that indicate what names could be called on the eve of its 20th season. Notably absent are would-be no-brainers like Grant Ament (declared for the PLL draft), Michael Sowers (using his fifth year at Duke), JT Giles-Harris (pursuing grad year of football and/or lacrosse) and a host of All-Americans going back to Syracuse in 2021 to see how far they could have taken that unbeaten streak and No. 1 national ranking.

One Orange star who has decided to move on is Nick Mellen, a two-time All-American that MLL mused might become just the second defenseman ever to be selected No. 1 overall. (In the very first MLL draft in 2001, the Rochester Rattlers selected Princeton defenseman Ryan Mollett.)

“I think it’s going to be very defensive,” Ford replied when asked to forecast the 2020 draft. “There are always great offensive players in drafts. But with what the Chesapeake Bayhawks did last year, how they defended, I don’t know that they had any reason to win the championship otherwise. I certainly don’t think they should have beat us in the semis with how we could score.”

Of the 10 players profiled by MLL, six are defensemen or long-stick midfielders. In addition to Mellen, the league has highlighted Yale’s Aidan Hynes, Boston University’s Reece Eddy, Brown’s Michael Brown, Penn’s Mark Evanchick and Air Force’s Griffin Peene. MLL also has profiled attackmen Miles Silva (Army), Andrew Pettit (Lehigh) and Kyle Anderson (Harvard), as well as midfielder Kevin Hill (Penn State).


Philadelphia Barrage coach and general manager Spencer Ford expects defensemen to be a hot commodity in the draft, with teams looking at the defending MLL champion Chesapeake Bayhawks as a template.

Most coaches acknowledge it’s not the ideal time for a draft. The NCAA transfer portal is jam-packed with pro-ready talent, and many more prospects are waiting to see if they can get into a graduate school and if college athletic departments will work with them to make the extra year a financially viable option. Even those intending to matriculate face uncertainty with regard to jobs they had lined up, as the economic downturn has forced many companies to implement hiring freezes.

But MLL is forging forward both with the draft and plans to have a 2020 season, which was originally slated to start May 30. Several coaches said the season could be condensed to 10 weeks, starting July 4 and ending Labor Day weekend, with venues implementing social distancing measures for games perhaps played without spectators.

“We’re still hopeful,” said O’Hara, who is staying with his family in the Syracuse area but will return to the Lizards’ Long Island offices for the draft Monday. “We wouldn’t be holding a draft if we didn’t think we’ve got a shot at this.”

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