I would’ve given you a call, but I’m sure your voicemail is full. Scouts, family members, and friends all sending commiserating messages over a season cut too short or inquisitive messages about whether or not you’re now planning to enter the NBA Draft.
While I do wish to send my condolences to you and the rest of the Husky family, you can count me among those who are curious about that future of yours.
You see, I just really don’t want to see you enter the draft. Not yet, at least.
After losing to 11th seeded George Mason on Sunday, you summed up all of your crisscrossing emotions in three little words.
“It just hurts,” you explained.
But it didn’t just hurt. It felt like a thousand wasps simultaneously stinging your heart. And now, as you lay on your couch reliving that pain through SportsCenter’s endless tournament coverage, your mind is frenetic. So many questions about the past, the present, and – most importantly – the future. As you scratch your 19-year old forehead, I bet you can’t think of one solid reason why you shouldn’t say goodbye to the quiet New England town, skip the final two years of your eligibility, and head to the pros.
Well, I’ve got one.
But before I give it to you, let me tell you that I understand your predicament. I get why you’ve probably picked out the perfect pin-striped suit and already started thinking of a cool way to shake David Stern’s hand.
After all, for the past two years, you’ve seen the NCAA make serious scratch off you. You see all the #22 UConn jerseys in stores and you must figure Pontiac – and countless other corporate sponsors – are piling billions on the NCAA doorstep. You might push a button on your Playstation and disapprove of your likeness on “NCAA 06 March Madness.”
Turns out, Rudy Gay is making an awful lot of money for a certain collegiate athletic association, but Rudy Gay can’t touch any of it.
Plus, Cinderella just punched you in the mouth. It was a repeat of a season-long pattern. Your team’s lackadaisical play allowed for a weaker, more passionate squad to hang around for too long. But this time they actually finished you off. Turns out Denham Brown, Marcus Williams, and Rashad Anderson can’t hit every clutch bucket.
And the worst part is that now everyone’s blaming you. They say you don’t have heart. They say you’re all glitz and no guts. They’re even mistaking your soft spoken demeanor for frailty.
Don’t they realize you’re just a sophomore? Don’t they see how much you are just trying to respect your place in the pecking order?
So now you face two options as you attempt to keep warm until summer sweeps through Storrs. Enter the NBA Draft, making millions off your contract and subsequent sneaker deals, or return to a blistery cold ball of collegiate greyness.
I’m writing to suggest you choose the latter.
Not for redemption against the critics or to bring UConn their third title since 1999. But, to be fair, your return would probably do both those things.
No, I’m pleading for your return to school because I’m selfish.
I care deeply for college basketball and I want to see you become one of the game’s all-time greats.
The pro scouts love your lithe, 6-foot-9 frame. You remind some of Grant Hill, while others see you as the next Carmelo Anthony. Or even Scottie Pippen.
You can defend perimeter players and block shots. Your hops are matched only by your grace. And your shooting touch is feathery.
No wonder the NBA is smitten. Some team is going to point to your basketball beauty and make you their June valentine, selecting you first overall in the draft. You’ll make your money and sport your diamond-encrusted watches. You won’t even have to decide between Escalades, Hummers, or Bentleys. You could have them all.
But if you choose to wade into those deep waters, you will drown into obscurity. You will start for some low level team and have a fairly solid career. But you will defer to the veterans and feel content to sit in the shadows. Just like college.
There aren’t weaknesses in your game, there are strengths you sometimes just choose not to utilize. But that’s what scares me. You are too passive.
I’m not asking you to stay in school for four years; I just want you to take a class in domination next season. Your own coach once described you as having “Ben Gordon Reluctant Superstar Syndrome.” Now is the time to drop the reluctance and add the resolve.
Hog the ball. Attack the glass. Stare down your opponents in warm-ups until they quiver in their Nike’s.
A handful of the Husky locker room leaders are moving on. Hilton Armstrong, Denham Brown, and Rashad Anderson are all exiting and there’s no better time for your arrival.
I don’t want to see you drift away like so many other collegiate stars who chose NBA paychecks over basketball growth. Rodney White, Eddie Griffin, Chris Wilcox, Jared Jeffries, and Rick Rickert all possessed similar size and a handful of talent. They were all on the cusp of dominating the college game, but never figured out how. It’s usually the type of thing you just don’t learn in the pros. Just ask Marvin Williams.
But you can be different. You can be a college basketball legend.
Think it can’t be done?
In the early eighties, one of college basketball’s most powerful teams featured a national player of the year and another star ripe with flair. The two dynamos led their squad to the Final Four.
A freshman, who averaged just over 13 points a game, watched this two-headed monster take the tourney by storm on their own. He saw them bathe in countless honors, accolades, and praise.
He coolly waited for his turn and eventually hit a game-winning jumper in the national championship game. This freshman knew his chance to dominate on his own would eventually come. And it did.
That freshman was Michael Jordan.
Good luck with your decision…