To stay or go: Futures Hinge on Player Decisions
Even with the draft order now set, and player workouts getting underway, it’s still tough to predict which players will ultimately stay in the draft this year. According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, 69 underclassmen declared for the draft this year, including surprises like Oregon State’s CJ Giles, who has now been kicked off two college teams, and Alabama’s Ronald Steele, who didn’t even play last season due to injury.
But while it was a no-brainer for guys like Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose and OJ Mayo to declare and sign with an agent, other players are on the dreaded bubble about staying in. While they struggle with their decision and try to improve their stock through workouts, their college teammates and coaches are sitting at home, wondering if they’ll be back. Here’s a look at some teams who are anxiously awaiting decisions from key players.*
*Players have not signed with an agent as of May 29
Waiting on: Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Ty Lawson
Perhaps no team stands to gain as much should all of their players decide to return. With National POY Tyler Hansbrough already coming back, the return of starters Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, and a terrific three-man recruiting class on the way, the Heels will be good no matter what. But the return of these three puts the Heels on the short list of national title contenders next year. Looking through various mock drafts, none of the three are first-round locks, and all could stand to improve through another year in college. Lawson is rumored to be the most likely to stay in the draft, meaning UNC better hope Bobby Frasor’s is ready to play next year. Green and Ellington are both likely to return, as both could climb into the first round next year in what is thought to be a weaker draft class. Should any or all of these guys come back, look for Carolina to begin the year atop the polls.
Waiting on: Richard Hendrix, Ronald Steele
The Tide already received one break when ultra-athletic forward Alonzo Gee pulled his name out of the draft. Now, they’re just hoping for the same thing from Hendrix and Steele, both of whom would be better suited to return to school. As previously noted, Steele didn’t even play last season because of a knee injury, so declaring for the draft seemed like a bit of a stretch. When healthy, he’s one of the better point guards in the country, but he needs to show he is fully recovered. Hendrix is a beast down low, but he’s a bit small for the power forward position in the NBA. It’s conceivable that he could climb into the mid-late first round with solid workouts, but another year of college ball would help him expand his offensive game. However, he has nothing to lose by declaring and getting some feedback from NBA scouts, so it was a wise decision on his part. If both players return, the Tide will challenge for the SEC West title next year.
Waiting on: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook
Bruins’ fans know that Westbrook is likely as good as gone, as he’s projected as lottery pick after his breakout sophomore season. It would be a shock to see him back in Westwood next year. However, Shipp and Mbah a Moute both could return, giving the Bruins some veteran experience to go with a stellar recruiting class. Mbah a Moute can still play himself into the first round with a strong draft camp. He’s got the versatility that scouts like, but his game could still use more polish, especially on the offensive end. Shipp is a long shot to be drafted, and he almost certainly will return for his senior year. A solid shooter with good athleticism, he’s battled injuries and inconsistency his entire career, and a big senior season could go a long way toward erasing that. With Darren Collison coming back, the return of these two would make the Bruins a safe bet for another Final Four trip.
Waiting on: Mario Chalmers
The Jayhawks knew they’d be looking at a different team next year after winning the title this year. But should Chalmers decide to keep his name in the draft, the only returning players of any significance would be Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Seniors Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson are all gone, and underclassmen Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur will stay in the draft. Chalmers, the hero of the national title game, is on the first round bubble, and likely would be a second round pick. He’s not a pure point guard, and could use his senior year to show off his playmaking skills. He’s a terrific on-the-ball defender and has a high basketball IQ, so it’s not inconceivable that a team drafting late in the first round could take a chance. But KU fans would love to see him back in Lawrence to help the growing pains of a young team.
Waiting on: Bill Walker
The Wildcats knew they’d only have Beasley for one season, but losing Walker at the same time would hurt just as much. Walker didn’t have quite the same impact as Beasley, but he’s a still a fantastic athlete who is capable of putting up 20 points when he wanted. Unfortunately for K-State, Walker has looked great in workouts, and he’s likely going to stay in the draft. He reportedly has lost the extra weight that plagued him after his surgery, and his jaw-dropping explosiveness is back. He likely will be a mid-late first round pick, and could end up being a steal going that late. If he does return, he would be a big asset for Frank Martin’s team, who will be looking for a consistent scoring threat. But without Walker or Beasley, K-State will once again be looking up at the Big 12’s elite teams.
Arizona: Chase Budinger
He’s considered a late lottery pick, so it’ll be a surprise if he returns. Although he rarely dominated games the way his talent allowed him to, he still was a great player and his return, along with the addition of PG Brandon Jennings, would help the Wildcats climb back to the top of the Pac 10 after a rocky season.
West Virginia: Joe Alexander
Like Budinger, Alexander is unlikely to return to school, after finishing a strong season by leading WVU to the Sweet 16. A terrific athlete with good size for the small forward position, he’s on the lottery bubble, and could even climb near the top 10 with good workouts. Without him, the Mountaineers will find last year’s run hard to duplicate.
Cal: Ryan Anderson
New coach Mike Montgomery would love the chance to coach the versatile Anderson, who is considered a late first rounder right now. A power forward with a sweet shooting stroke would certainly help the Bears next season as they try to forget a disappointing 2007-08 season. Anderson could climb the boards with good workouts, but look for him to return.
Florida: Marreese Speights
Speights is considered a mid-late first rounder right now, and word is that he’s likely to stay in the draft. Speights has great talent, but his conditioning and work ethic are questionable, and he often found himself in Coach Billy Donovan’s doghouse last year. With big men Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas coming in next year as part of a five-man recruiting class, the Gators should be able to move on without a ton of adjustment.