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NBA Draft Early Entrants

June 17, 2003 Columns No Comments

Was This What They Were Looking For?

by Phil Kasiecki

After the college basketball season ended, we were flooded with news of early entry candidates for the NBA Draft. Most knew some players who would declare, but then many more questionable players declared for the draft, ostensibly to test the waters and see where they stand, coming back to school if they did not like the feedback they received. Many casual fans would figure that some of these players would find out quickly that their best bet would be to return to school, but that didn’t stop anyone.

When several high school players also declared for the same reason, from a class that has no more than two players who might be first round material (LeBron James and perhaps Ndudi Ebi, who has tantalizing talents but is very rail-thin), then things seemed to be out of hand. Some thought the new rules regarding high school players being able to test the waters, then attend college, were leading to insanity. The same was being said about players being able to participate in the scrimmages at the pre-draft camp in Chicago last week without being penalized if they return to school. Some have chosen instead to work out in one place for NBA teams, mostly at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

A number of players wanted to see if they could work themselves up to where they could be assured of going in the first round (Washington State guard Marcus Moore, St. Joseph’s guard Jameer Nelson, Alabama guard Maurice Williams) or well into the first round, like Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas. Georgetown junior forward Mike Sweetney wants to see if he will go in the lottery before deciding to sign with an agent or return to Georgetown (it’s a difficult call right now, though he looks to be a mid-late lottery pick).

The pre-draft camp has come and gone, and the results are in. Did the players get the results they wanted? From reports coming out of Chicago and Bradenton, it would appear that the answer is no. Moore announced on Wednesday that he is returning to Washington State for his final season of eligibility after struggling in Chicago. But the other players have no more clear an idea of where they stand than they did before declaring.

Nelson played well in Chicago, showing his ability to run a team. But he measured at 5’11” without shoes on, and teams are concerned about smaller point guards despite the prowess of some in the NBA. As such, he will likely not get a guarantee of being drafted in the first round, which means there is a good chance he will return to St. Joseph’s, where he will add to the all-time assist record and likely have his jersey retired.

Williams did not play well enough to be assured of a first round spot as well, so he may well be headed back to Alabama. Aside from his play there, Williams needs to shoot the ball more consistently and make better decisions with the ball, as he didn’t always have a pass-first mentality this past season.

Thomas has worked out for individual teams, and he might have a team say they like him enough to take him in the top 20-25 picks, which is the cap he set when he originally declared. However, he has not received an assurance, and will have to make a decision in another week.

Charlie Villanueva and Ndudi Ebi both worked out at IMG Academy in Bradenton for a few teams. While the rail-thin Ebi might get a team to like him enough to use a first round pick on him and looks like the safest of all, the chances are very slim that Villanueva will. Both have said that without a guarantee of being selected in the first round, they will withdraw by the June 19 deadline and play college ball next season (Ebi at Arizona, Villanueva at national title contender Connecticut).

The pattern is established: most players who bolted early hoping to get a better gauge of their draft stock have no better an idea of where they stand. Aside from Moore, and perhaps Williams, they are left with arguably a more difficult decision than before they declared. They are closer to the deadline and it does not appear that they will get the guarantees they seek. Given the international talent and the interest in players from overseas, the borderline players would do well to go back to school (and for Villanueva, to go in the first place).

With that being said, what does this mean for the future? Chances are, very little will change, if what one is hoping for is fewer underclassmen declaring. While most came away with little to no better an idea of where they stand, this isn’t likely to stop players from declaring to test the waters in the future. The fate of recent high school players who declared for the draft has not stopped others from thinking they are good enough. That isn’t entirely bad, as long as players ultimately use the feedback they get to make a good decision.

But players will continue to make decisions that even a casual follower of the game knows are bad ones, in addition to those making good ones. There has been much talk in recent years of ways to keep kids in college, ranging from freshman ineligibility to having the school suffer to having the player pay back the school for the scholarship money. Not only are some of the ideas very bad in the first place, but they are also more likely to push kids toward leaving than staying, or they will encourage more high school players skip college. Like anything else, this can’t be legislated away; all that can ever be done is to give players as much information as possible for their decision, and hope they make the right one.


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