Remember when the NBA was concerned about players leaving too early? The league even established an age minimum in 2005 to force kids to wait a year out of high school before joining the league. That resulted in a 2006 draft that still ranks among the worst in NBA history.
Now the league appears destined to have another bad draft on June 23 as several players projected to go high — possibly even No. 1 overall — are electing to return for another year in college. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger was the first possible top three pick to decide that the lure of NBA riches weren’t enough to make him leave. Then, came Baylor freshman Perry Jones. And now on Monday, North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes announced in a statement that he has decided to go back after realizing he simply enjoyed school too much.
The possibility of an NBA lockout has been used as a reason why several players have elected to stay in college, but in some of these cases, it simply sounds as if many in the supposed one-and-done era of college basketball want to win NCAA championships and just aren’t in a rush to grow up – much to the dismay of the teams that were hoping to scoop them up this summer. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving and Arizona forward Derrick Williams have entered the draft, but the talent pool is greatly diminished after that. Some of the top international prospects include Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Jan Vesely (Czech Republic) and Enes Kanter, a big man from Turkey who was ruled ineligible to play at Kentucky last season.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Sunday and they have until May 8 to change their minds.
John Wall took the one-and-done route out of Kentucky and into the top spot in the draft. He said that if he were in the same position this year, he’d do it again — lockout or not. “It’d be tough. I feel like if you’re a lottery pick just go ahead and test it. It’s not guaranteed that you’d be in the lottery next year, you’re not guaranteed if you have a season-ending injury or anything like that, and you hope it doesn’t happen to any of these guys. But you just hope they make the best decision for them. If I was in their shoes, and I was guaranteed a lottery pick or had a chance to go one or two, I would come out. You find some way to get a loan from somebody for a while.”
I can tell you that several within the Wizards organization were especially high on Barnes, the ACC rookie of the year, believing that the 6-foot-8 swingman had the ability to play small forward or could form a dynamic backcourt with Wall. Wall even referenced Barnes last week, when asked about the options for the No. 1 pick should the Wizards win the lottery on May 17.
“It’s tough right now because you got guys like Derrick Williams that are good. It depends if guys like Harrison and them come out. I really don’t know,” Wall said. “A lot of guys are putting their name in and not signing with an agent and seeing what they’re going to do so whenever we get to that situation. I think our scouting team did a great job of going to look at guys and they’ve asked us and we’ve been watching college basketball and the talented players that are coming out.”
Barnes had been on the fence for some time, so his decision wasn’t surprising. He said in a statement, “As an 18-year old, I’m in the early stages of my life journey,” Barnes says. “I’m honored and blessed for the chance to play in the NBA. And because of my family, teachers, passion, and work, I have the ultimate dream of one day playing and experiencing a fulfilling career in the NBA. Opportunities, both beneficial and life changing, can seem to make the next phase of my journey an easy decision. But I am a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina. I’m here to experience college life, grow as a person, receive a quality education, and be part of the greatest basketball family in college sports.”
The Wizards have two first-round picks -- their own lottery selection and the 18th pick acquired from Atlanta -- in the June 23 draft. Teams are not allowed to comment on underclassmen, but I asked Coach Flip Saunders last week if he was worried about having so many of the top college players electing to stay in school. He said the Wizards should be able to get some talented players either way.
“You’ve got to count on your scouts in evaluation,” Saunders said. “You’d like to get as many [talented players] as you can. There are a lot of good players over in Europe. Now all of a sudden, they are being thrust into a more prevalent role than they were three weeks ago. Everyone said this draft wasn’t maybe like last year when you knew John Wall was No. 1. This year’s draft is going to be a situation where…you can get a guy at 11 that some people like at one or vice versa. We’re going to get two really good players. We’re just going to have to wait and see how everything filters out.”
When asked what the Wizards need to get in the offseason, Wall said, “I think it wouldn’t be bad to have another big man, a wing player and maybe a backup point guard. Any of those positions can really help us out.”