Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Updated: June 19, 3:16 PM ET
Looking for last-minute guarantees
By Andy Katz
Marcus Moore, Chris Thomas and Jason Parker were the first to fall back in line by withdrawing from the NBA draft. The rest of the high-profile early-entry candidates on the fence are taking their decisions down to Thursday's deadline.
The NBA requires a fax or letter to arrive in its New York office by 5 p.m. ET on Thursday. Unlike letters declaring early for the draft, the NBA must have the documentation in its possession by the deadline. Letters could be received after the early-entry deadline of May 12 if they were postmarked by the deadline date.
Moore made up his mind to return to Washington State for his senior season last week, while Thomas made his decision Monday to play at least another season at Norte Dame. Parker announced his plan to play as a senior at Tulsa on Tuesday.
Saint Joseph, meanwhile, got the good word Thursday that junior Jameer Nelson will return for his senior season. Connecticut then made plans to welcome Charlie Villanueva (Blair Academy, N.J.) to Storrs after he made it known that he was withdrawing his name from the draft.
Nelson was considered a possible first-round talent after his performance in Chicago (10.3 points per game, 19 assists, seven turnovers in three games), but didn't received a guarantee from any team that he will be picked in the first round. Nelson wasn't going to stay in the draft if such a guarantee wasn't given.
"It isn't about being a first-round draft pick any more. It's about being a lottery pick next year and a candidate for national player of the year," said Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli. "Jameer will break every record that we have, he's a first-team All-American and he'll be revered as long as they play basketball at Saint Joseph's."
Nelson said several times this month that he won't have a problem returning to the Hawks for his senior season. Nelson's senior season will begin most likely by being named preseason first-team all-America and a candidate for National Player of the Year honors. Nelson is also the difference between the Hawks being a preseason top 25 team or an A-10 squad looking for an identity.
"Professional basketball is still how I want to earn a living and support my family," said Nelson. "The last few weeks have convinced me that will happen. I am grateful to the NBA for giving me that chance, and to everyone at Saint Joseph's and beyond who has supported me."
As for the rest, they'll be making their coaches sweat out the decision process, which could determine the fate of several top 25 teams next season. And, for at least one coach, he must decide if bringing back a player is worth the potential disruption of the team after experiencing a taste of trying to make the NBA.
That coach is Bob Knight. The player is junior guard Andre Emmett.
Emmett will meet just hours before the deadline with Knight to discuss his future with the Texas Tech program, according to a source close to Emmett. Emmett said two weeks ago in Chicago at the pre-draft camp that he wants to stay in the draft, but he has been told that he's not a first-round pick. His status in the draft could open the door for his return to Tech.
But the relationship between Knight and Emmett was strained last season when Knight suspended Emmett for a game against Texas for what was essentially termed a lack of effort in practice. Emmett returned to the team and remained a major contributor (21.8 points per game). However, it still may be a case of Knight deciding if Emmett is welcomed back to the program.
If Emmett is back with Tech next season, he would be one of the candidates for first-team All-Big 12, not to mention a potential Player of the Year in the conference. He would compete with Missouri's Arthur Johnson and Ricky Paulding for top honors in the league. But Emmett might choose to stay in the draft and take his chances as a second-round pick, whether Knight wants him back or not. If Emmett returns to the Red Raiders, they have a chance of hanging with the top six teams in the Big 12.
Among the most quiet underclassmen still uncertain about their futures is Alabama sophomore point guard Maurice Williams. The Tide is another team with top 25 aspirations, but needs Williams to avoid dropping back into the SEC pack. Williams isn't being talked about as a first-round draft pick, which bodes well for Alabama. But, he was indecisive in Chicago about whether or not he would stay in the draft if he weren't a first-round pick. The Tide needs Williams to be a serious contender for an SEC West title (or more) next season.
Georgetown junior forward Michael Sweetney, the highest-profile candidate who hasn't signed with an agent, is expected to stay in the draft. Sweetney, projected as high as the lottery by some, has been holding workouts in D.C. for the past two weeks for teams in the lottery and just outside of the top 13 picks.
Also on Thursday morning, high school senior Kendrick Perkins (Ozen H.S., Houston) announced he'd remain in the draft and not attend Memphis.
As for the two remaining high school seniors with the option to go to college, they're keeping their college choices waiting.
Conflicting information emerged this week in regards to Mississippi State signee Travis Outlaw (Starkville High School, Miss.). The Bulldogs were under the impression he was going to stay in the draft, but Outlaw said Monday he hasn't made up his mind. At least one source told ESPN.com that he too is waiting to get a first-round guarantee. But any decision from Outlaw isn't expected until as late as Thursday. Outlaw is considered one of the top athletes in the draft but not as skilled a player that he could make a contribution next season.
Arizona, which signed Ndudi Ebi (Westbury Christian H.S., Houston), is holding out hope that Ebi will honor his commitment and withdraw from the draft. Sources said Ebi is among those holding out hope for a first-round guarantee. Ebi would definitely make the Wildcats even stronger inside if he went to Arizona.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.