One More Year: Possible 2008 Early Entries

    
June 9th, 2007

Sure, they came back for one more year. Fan favorites, BMOC, players who could have explored NBA riches, but chose instead to stay in school. But what about the year after that? Is it too much to ask for two more years? In most cases, yes.

Next year’s NBA Draft will feature the usual one-and-doners, players like OJ Mayo, Derrick Rose, and Michael Beasley. (Side note: Mayo is about a lock for the 2008 Draft as anyone has ever been. According to a jaw-dropping report in the NY Times, he committed to USC without seeing the campus or knowing anything about the team or coach. He only wanted to come to Los Angeles so he could better market himself for the NBA. Money quote from the story: “OJ doesn’t give out his cell, he’ll call you”).

In any case, with the usual freshmen making the leap, there will also be possible seniors such as Chris Lofton, Sean Singletary, and Drew Neitzel, not to mention about a half dozen international players, in the guarantee-money first round of the 2008 Draft, leaving precious few spots available.

Will the top underclassmen still give it go? Here’s a best guess.

Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

Tyler Hansbrough is truly an usual case. A top 10 high school prospect from the 2005 class, Hansbrough could have jumped directly to the NBA draft, where he was projected as a late first round pick. The following year, after being named the national Freshman of the Year, and first team All-ACC, he was again projected in the first round of the draft, this time a potential lottery selection, yet again decided to attend North Carolina instead. Last year he was named a Wooden All-American, again promised lots of money by scouts and would be agents if he went pro, but again, chose to come back.

His reasons for attending UNC haven’t varied much since he was a highly recruited high school senior. He has consistently said that he still feels he needs to improve his game under Roy Williams, that he loves the college experience, and wants to win a title before he leaves. He has never been coy about his dream to play in the NBA, but unlike so many others, is not in a hurry just yet to do so. He has always planned on being in Chapel Hill for four years, and if that’s what it takes, so be it.

Unlike countless others who have offered platitudes about forgoing the NBA and staying in school when they had no intention of doing so (see: Durant, Kevin), Hansbrough should be taken at his word for no other reason than he has done that three years in a row.

Should the Tar Heels cut down the nets in San Antonio, don’t expect Hansbrough – or Ellington or Lawson for that matter – to set foot on the floor of the Dean Dome in 2008-09. If not, and it looks like North Carolina has a chance to win it all in 2009, then Hansbrough’s four year plan might become a reality.

Brandon Rush, Kansas

Of all the shooting guards potentially entering the 2008 Draft, KU’s Brandon Rush will not only be the most NBA-ready, he might have the best career of any of them depending on the success of his recovery from ACL surgery.

The numbers are impressive. A Wooden All-America and a Naismith finalist last season, Rush has led the Jayhawks in scoring in each of his two years in Lawrence, as well as being the leading and second-leading rebounder on the team, respectively. His achievements earned him All-Big 12 first team honors both seasons, impressive considering he was first the Big 12 freshman to do it (obviously Kevin Durant was the second).

As unfair as it is, Rush’s draft stock might not be as high as it would have been prior to his ACL injury, which might give false hope to Jayhawk faithful that he might come back to school and finish his degree. However, should he return for his senior year, Rush will enter the NBA draft at the age of 23 – or one year older than Lebron James is today, in his fourth year in the NBA. That is simply too long to wait.

Rush is eager to prove his worth at the next level and will do it after this season. Still, Jayhawk fans got an unlikely gift in his unexpected return, and Kansas will once again be a title contender because of it.

Darren Collison, UCLA

Collison certainly could have entertained thoughts of declaring for the NBA Draft after the season. He was named All Pac-10 in what was widely regarded as the nation’s toughest conference. He was one of the most improved players in the nation, establishing himself not only as an excellent ball-handler but a great defensive player as well. He also was coming off back-to-back Final Fours.

Yet he didn’t even consider it. In an interview with Rivals.com, Collison explained why: “I still haven't reached my goal of winning a national championship. I thought I could have done better. I could have been a better leader. Until we get a championship I haven't done my job as a point guard."

There is no reason to doubt him. Like Tyler Hansbrough, expect Collison to stay four years - unless he climbs the ladder in San Antonio.

Chase Budinger, Arizona

He earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in a conference that featured Spencer Hawes, Ryan Anderson, Tajuan Porter, Brook Lopez and Taj Gibson. Yet he didn’t even test the waters for the 2007 Draft. But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about 2008.

According to the Daily Wildcat, UA’s campus paper, Budinger said his decision on whether to turn pro after his sophomore season depends on how well Arizona does in the postseason. Specifically, he wants the Wildcats to make a make a deep NCAA Tournament run and make it to the Final Four. If not, he offers, he may come back for his junior year to try again.

No chance. Barring a stunning collapse, or horrific injury, Budinger will be projected to be among the Top 10 picks in the 2008 draft, in all likelihood meaning untold fortunes in endorsements. The Top 10 is where he will stay.

Brook Lopez, Stanford
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

It has been a fact oft-mentioned in the run-up to the NBA finals, but one worth repeating: Shaq and Tim Duncan have won seven of the last eight NBA championships.

In fact, with the exception of a team that featured the greatest player in history and one of the greatest in their backcourt, just about every NBA champion in the modern era has had a great center. Think Olajuwon, Laimbeer, Parish and Kareem. Patrick Ewing for his part guided the Knicks to 12 straight playoff appearances and an NBA Finals.

The point is that great NBA centers usually become NBA champions, and why NBA scouts and GMs are always on the lookout for the Next One. That is why Greg Oden will be taken ahead of Kevin Durant despite the fact that Durant had one of the most impressive seasons in college basketball history.

It’s also why NBA scouts will drool over Hibbert and Lopez next year as their game reaches the next level, why they will be projected very high in the 2008 NBA Draft, and why they will not return for another year.

Dominic James, Marquette
Spencer Hawes, Washington
Jeff Green, Georgetown

As of this writing, none of the aforementioned players have made a final decision as to whether or not they are withdrawing from the 2007 NBA draft and returning to school. Green is especially interesting considering he had declared he was staying in the draft just a few weeks ago, but now is waffling according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.

No player can “test the waters” and declare for the draft more than once. If any of them choose to opt out of the Draft before the June 18 deadline, it would be absolutely shocking if they didn’t leave for good after next season.