Every year it happens. All the analysts and experts discuss their top 25 for next season without knowing who's staying on campus and who'll be back next fall. Then, a few days after they release their predictions, unexpected players go pro, and their team's chances for next season take a hit.
This year was no different. Right after Florida's national championship, everyone pegged the Gators and North Carolina as the favorites in 2006-2007, with UCLA, Memphis, and Texas not far behind. However, those three teams had a combined seven players enter the NBA Draft, though only the Longhorns' LaMarcus Aldridge signed an agent. Are the gut-shot, knee-jerk, post-season top 25's meaningless? In a word, yes.
The fact that only the aforementioned Aldridge signed an agent from that group of seven brings me to another point. Of the 62 underclassmen that officially entered their names into the Draft pool, only 12 have officially hired an agent as of today. That means that 50 of the underclassmen out there have a chance of returning to school should they not receive the feedback they want from NBA scouts. In other words, we won't know until June 18th who is actually leaving their respective school.
Even though we can't officially say who is going pro and who is staying in school, there are several teams that will be severely crippled should they lose certain players. Which teams were hurt the most by multiple players testing the early-entry waters, as of now?
After they fell short of their goal of a national championship, the Longhorns were looking forward to next season. They did not lose any of their big three players and were also set to add five-star recruit Kevin Durant. However, shortly after the NCAA Tournament, Lamarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker, and Daniel Gibson all announced that they would be entering the NBA Draft. Aldridge is the only one to sign an agent, but it is looking likely at least one of the other two will keep their name in. Of the three, Gibson made the worst decision. He can't play the point, he is not that great of a shooter, and with his size, he won't be a two-guard in the NBA. Without the graduated Brad Buckman and Aldridge, Texas is going to struggle on the interior. The only problem is that neither Gibson nor Tucker seems overly likely to return. Tucker has no perimeter game and will not get a chance to improve on it with the logjam of perimeter talent Texas will have, while Gibson has not been happy with his role under Rick Barnes. It could be a reloading year next season for the 'Horns.
The Huskies had somewhat of a disappointing postseason, never playing to their potential and falling in the Elite Eight to George Mason. With all the egos battling for stardom in the lineup, most people knew that there would be somewhat of a mass exodus from Storrs. Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay both signed with agents, while Josh Boone also entered his name into the Draft waters. If Boone does decide to keep his name in the Draft, UConn will have lost six of their top eight players from this past season. Williams has shown phenomenal passing ability and saw his stock rise considerably. Meanwhile, Gay never demonstrated his unbelievable abilities to their full extent, but he is going to go in the top five anyway. Boone, on the other hand, does not have much of an offensive game and is not overly aggressive. UConn has several quality recruits coming in, but they could struggle early with the loss of so many players.
After a surprising season in which they received a #1 seed and reached the Elite Eight, the Tigers could fall back down next season, even if they dominate Conference USA again. Rodney Carney ran out of eligibility, and Darius Washington and Shawne Williams both entered their names into the NBA Draft pool. Washington never demonstrated the ability to become a true point guard, and he does not have the size to become a very good shooting guard in the NBA. Even so, he is rumored to be signing with an agent soon. Williams, on the other hand, has great ability, but his inconsistency merits another season in college. If he returns, Memphis should be a contender for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, but if he keeps his name in the Draft, the Tigers could lose two or three games in the conference.
The national runner-up looked good for next season. They would only lose Cedric Bozeman from their key contributors, and the injured Josh Shipp returns; some consider him the best player on the UCLA roster. However, the optimism took a hit when Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar, possibly the best backcourt in the country, entered their names in the NBA Draft. Farmar is a mediocre defender and not a great shooter, meaning he could return, while Afflalo, with his limited offensive game, is no lock to be a first-rounder, either. If both players return, expect the Bruins to win the Pac-10 and be a Final Four contender again. If both stay in the Draft, it could be a long season in Los Angeles.
San Diego State
The Aztecs, defending Mountain West Conference champions, would have easily been the favorite heading into next season. However, the two best players in the conference, Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath, both declared for the NBA Draft. Slaughter signed with an agent, so there is no chance he is returning. Heath is just hoping for an invitation to the Orlando pre-draft camp. Slaughter never really got along with head coach Steve Fisher, and his family believed that there was nothing more for him to do at SDSU. Heath is an excellent scorer, but I don't think he has a chance of becoming a good NBA player right now. He needs to return.
After a dream season for the Colonials, Karl Hobbs had already planned on losing his entire frontcourt due to graduation, but the backcourt duo of Carl Elliot and Danilo "J.R." Pinnock was not really receiving any NBA attention. Both ended up declaring, though neither signed agents, so they still have the opportunity to return to GW. Elliot has absolutely no chance of getting drafted as a result of the fact that he is not much more than a very stingy defender. On the other hand, Pinnock has the athleticism the NBA wants, but he does not have much of a jump shot. In other words, both players should return. If they don't, George Washington is going to fall back to the rest of the pack in the Atlantic 10.
Iowa State went 6-10 in the Big XII, right? Therefore, there has to be a mistake with this one. Why would Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock enter the NBA Draft after showing their inability to lead a team to a .500 record in a pretty bad conference? It doesn't make sense. If one went, I could understand. But both? I don't know about that. Stinson is a very good all-around player, but he has never demonstrated that he can play the point and he is too small to play the two. Sources say that he left because Iowa State fired coach Wayne Morgan, who Stinson was very close to. Blalock is a great passer, but like Stinson, he lacks size. However, unlike Stinson, Blalock did not hire an agent, leaving him the option of returning to Ames. If Blalock stays in the draft, Iowa State might be the worst team in the Big XII come next season.Those teams had at least two players leave school to enter their names in the NBA Draft, but what about the teams that lost their go-to-guy, the star that carried them last season?
Gonzaga (Adam Morrison): Morrison legitimately carried Gonzaga in the majority of games last season, and along with J.P. Batista, he was the sole option in some games. With Batista running out of eligibility and Morrison hiring an agent, Gonzaga is going to have trouble making another appearance in the top 10. Morrison is likely to be a top 5 pick.
Rice (Morris Almond): Rice might have the most NBA-impacted team in the country if Almond decides to stay in the draft. He is a phenomenal scorer and can put it in the basket in a variety of ways. If he gets an invite to the Orlando draft camp, he could surprise some people and potentially get drafted. The Owls take a huge hit if he hires an agent.
Bradley (Patrick O'Bryant): Remember the seemingly unknown (to casual fans) mid-major player that dominated Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray in the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, that was O'Bryant. With his size and potential, there is no reason he should go back to Bradley. The Braves have a lot of talent on their roster, but the loss of O'Bryant will hurt.
California (Leon Powe): Powe might have been the most consistent big man in college basketball last season. However, his game does not translate overly well to the NBA level. He is only 6-7, which makes him small for the power forward spot. Powe also does not have much of a perimeter game, meaning he is the classic "tweener" that NBA-types hate. Another year in school working on his shot could help.
Nevada (Nick Fazekas): Like most of the players in the section, Fazekas was pretty much all Nevada had in several games. He's got very good size at 6-10, he can shoot the outside jumper, he has a decent post game, and he has consistently dominated at the collegiate level. However, he is a borderline first-round pick due to his lack of strength and athleticism. With that said, I think he should stay in the draft because of the reported interest in him. Nevada will lose one of the few true superstars it has had.
Colorado (Richard Roby): Roby is reportedly close to signing an agent, which would be an awful mistake for him to make. He consistently beat up on weaker competition and was never really a dominant performer in key games. Moreover, he is somewhat lanky and might not have the strength at this point in his career. Outside of his shooting ability, he is a very average player and should return to Colorado. Without him, the Buffaloes are likely to be the worst team in the conference.
Louisiana Tech (Paul Millsap): One of the best rebounders in NCAA history, Millsap has signed an agent and will stay in the Draft. While there is nothing else for him to do at Louisiana Tech, Millsap could struggle in the NBA. He does not have great size for the power forward position and does not have a fully developed offensive game yet. Even with that, Tech is going to miss him severely. He single-handedly made them a threat last season.
Arkansas (Ronnie Brewer): Brewer is one of the best all-around players in the Draft, but he does not do anything unbelievably. Similar to Julius Hodge, he is athletic and can play a variety of positions, but does not have much of a jump-shot and needs to have the ball to be a factor on offense. With his length and size, he has the potential to be a lottery pick. I would have no problem if he signed an agent and left Arkansas for good.
Rutgers (Quincy Douby): NBA scouts are all over the place with Douby. Some consider him to be a top 20 pick, while others envision him staying around until the second round. Either way, one thing is clear: Douby is a scorer. He is too small to play to play the two at the NBA level and is too selfish right now to be a point guard, but he can be a Ben Gordon-type at the next level. He isn't going to improve his stock much by staying at Rutgers next season, so he should stay in the Draft.
Missouri (Thomas Gardner): What else is he going to do at Missouri? Their administration is a mess, and they have not been a contender in the Big XII in awhile. However, Gardner is not going to make much money at the NBA level with the game he has now. He is a pure scorer who is better suited at jacking from the perimeter than doing anything else. Missouri loses their go-to-guy should he stay in the Draft, though.
Comments on some other notable early-entrants:
Tyrus Thomas, LSU: Possible overall #1 pick, so who am I to say he needs another year? Can rebound and block shots, but that's it as of now.
Kyle Lowry, Villanova: No jump shot, but a likely first round choice. Nova's backcourt takes a hit with the loss, although he needs another year.
Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh: Lacks a polished offensive game, but has potential due to his size. He needs another year to work on his overall game.
Ekene Ibekwe, Maryland: Really? Ekene Ibekwe? Athletic, but athletes that can't do anything don't make it in the NBA.
Renaldo Balkman, South Carolina: Nobody had any idea who he was until the NIT, which is usually not a good sign. Go back to Columbia, Renaldo.
Shannon Brown, Michigan State: Very athletic and a decent scorer on the offensive end. Loves to get out and run. Spartans need him to return. Without him, they could finish outside of the top 5 in the watered-down Big Ten.
Bobby Brown, Cal-State Fullerton: Under the radar player who could become a first round pick. Has all the tools to be a solid player and should stay in the draft.
Guillermo Diaz, Miami: Very athletic player and an excellent, versatile scorer. Lacks a true position, though. Has signed with an agent.
Alexander Johnson, Florida State: Seminoles could have competed for a top 3 spot in the ACC with him. Signed with an agent, and could be a first round pick.
Rajon Rondo, Kentucky: Doesn't get along with Tubby Smith, so this was the only option for him. Has no jump shot whatsoever, but is athletic, long, and a terrific defender.
Cedric Simmons, North Carolina State: Very good potential down low and could be a top 20 pick. Wolfpack need him to return in order to compete in the ACC.
Mustafa Shakur, Arizona: Never has reached his potential while with the Wildcats and needs to stay another year to possibly win a Pac-10 title.