Maryland sophomore center Jordan Williams has submitted his name for this year’s NBA draft but he has not signed with an agent, keeping open the option of returning to College Park for his junior year.
The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Williams led the Terrapins in scoring (16.9 points per game) and rebounding (11.8 per game) this season. But his personal achievements, which included a single-season school-record 25 double-doubles, weren’t enough to salvage a disappointing campaign, with the Terps failing to qualify for college basketball’s postseason for the first time since 1993.
By not hiring an agent, Williams can take advantage of a two-week window in late spring to be evaluated by NBA scouts before the June 23 draft without losing his amateur status. Underclassmen such as Williams, who submit their names for the draft by the April 24 deadline, have until May 8 to change their minds and return to their college teams.
In a statement issued by university officials Tuesday, Maryland Coach Gary Williams said he supported the sophomore’s efforts to learn more about where he stands in relation to the upcoming draft.
But if Jordan Williams follows through and turns pro, it would represent a major blow to the Terps, who struggled to a 19-14 overall record and finished seventh in the ACC at 7-9, passed over for a berth in the 68-team NCAA tournament and the 32-team National Invitation Tournament.
“I’m excited about testing the waters and seeing where I would be,” Jordan Williams said in a statement. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the next level. This will give me an opportunity to get feedback from some NBA coaches and scouts on what parts of my game need improvement in order to be successful.”
This year’s NBA draft is fraught with more uncertainty than usual given the specter of a potential lockout when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30.
On one hand, incoming rookies run the risk of going without a paycheck and idling all summer — and possibly longer — if there’s an impasse between NBA players and management.
On the other hand, if the most coveted college players decide to stay in school another year because of the uncertainty, underclassmen whose resumes aren’t as impressive could see their stock rise by default.
In the view of Len Elmore, a first-round pick in the 1974 draft following a four-year career at Maryland, underclassmen with NBA dreams should spend less time sleuthing out their draft-day status and more time developing their skills in the college ranks.
Williams, he says, is no exception.
“You’re playing Russian roulette in some ways if you’re not fully prepared to step in and play right away” in the NBA, said Elmore, who had an 11-year pro career. “Right now I don’t think Jordan Williams is capable of stepping in and playing right away. He has got work to do. The numbers he put up are phenomenal numbers, but those are statistics. My point is: How many games did he truly dominate? In those statistics, how many wins did that truly translate to?”
Williams is a strong rebounder and a fine passer. But he lacks a reliable 12- to 15-foot jump shot, and he has been erratic from the free throw line. Those are just a few of the shortcomings he would need to address before an NBA team suits him up for a game.
That’s the sort of feedback he’s likely to get when he works out for NBA teams in late April and early May, before deciding whether to return to college.
Maryland star guard Greivis Vasquez did just that after his junior year, submitting his name for the 2009 draft to gauge his prospects and then withdrawing. He ultimately was picked in the first-round of the 2010 NBA draft after a four-year college career.
Elmore hopes Williams will do the same, using his junior year to develop himself further as a person and player with an eye toward a long-term, rather than short-lived, NBA career.
“The bottom line: If [Ohio State star freshman] Jared Sullinger can say, ‘I’m coming back to school,’ then Jordan Williams should say I’m coming back to school,” said Elmore. Sullinger, a 6-9 power forward, was projected as a top-five draft pick but said after Ohio State’s loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament’s round of eight that he would return for his sophomore season.
“I don’t want to hear, ‘That’s another first-round spot for him to jump into.’ That, to me, is a specious argument, when you take into consideration that you want to be playing for your second [long-term] contract and not your first,” Elmore added. “All that does is embrace the short term. There are a lot of kids who make that money in the first couple years, but haven’t developed and are languishing in the [NBA] developmental league. Is that what you really want because you haven’t developed yourself?”