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Monday, April 6, 2009
Latest on who's declaring for NBA draft


DETROIT -- A few quick hitters in advance of Monday's national title game:

• Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said over the weekend that he expects junior Tyler Smith to declare for the NBA draft. He said he has prepared to go into next season without Smith. He almost did this past year before Smith decided to come back.

• UCLA coach Ben Howland said he didn't have a definitive answer as to whether freshman Jrue Holiday would declare for the draft. But it's clear Holiday is listening to folks who may steer him toward declaring. That doesn't mean he'll stay in the draft, but he's most likely going to see where he stands.

• Georgetown coach John Thompson III didn't have a final answer regarding freshman Greg Monroe's draft status. But the impression left by Monroe and his family is that he's considering returning for a sophomore season. Monroe started out strong early in the season, but then faded as a major impact player who could leave and contribute next season in the NBA. The example that is being used with Monroe, and it's a good one, is Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin. Monroe isn't Griffin. He's not as strong or powerful a force inside. But Griffin was nowhere near ready to come in and play in the NBA after his freshman season. If Monroe returns and works on his strength and overall offensive package, then he has a real shot to be a player once he enters the NBA, instead of just a work in progress.

Meanwhile, I didn't get the sense the Hoyas were too worried that junior DaJuan Summers declared for the draft. Assuming Monroe returns, Georgetown is pretty confident it'll shake the late-season swoon and become a contender in the Big East next season. Thompson III is high on a potential starting lineup of Monroe, rising sophomore big man Henry Sims, freshman Hollis Thompson (who sat out the spring semester after graduating early from high school) and rising junior guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. The experiment with Thompson worked out perfectly according to JT3, who said having Thompson learn the system early will speed up his ability to contribute next season.

• Washington State is trying to think outside the box by looking at former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie and interviewing UAB's Mike Davis for the opening to replace Tony Bennett. San Diego's Billy Grier and former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried have also been in the mix, but it seems like the two coaches who make the most sense are the two who interviewed Sunday (Portland State's Ken Bone and Utah State's Stew Morrill), according to the Seattle Times. The Cougars have tried in the past to go with coaches from outside the area who don't have a specific niche (this is the non-Bennett variety), but they haven't worked out. Wazzu is a unique place; a coach who wants to be there and won't whine about Pullman as an outpost needs to be the hire.

• Arizona does like Utah's Jim Boylen, according to a source close to the situation. The Wildcats view Boylen as coming from a similar rebuilding situation, and he has strong recruiting ties in California, Texas and Arizona. Boylen, a former Milwaukee Bucks assistant, was a former Michigan State assistant and has the backing of the beloved Tom Izzo.

I'm not sure why the Wildcats are so timid about getting Saint Mary's Randy Bennett, who would love the gig and has proven that he can recruit at a difficult spot, build a team and coach it into the postseason. Former Arizona players are pushing Josh Pastner for the job. He is well-liked by the Arizona family, would have the backing of Lute Olson and can recruit. If he ever got a gig like this, he would have to surround himself with top assistants. I understand why Arizona would go after a proven head coach, and that works against Pastner. That's why hiring one and putting Pastner back on the staff as the top assistant would make sense, too. You need someone who shares the passion for this job. Arizona can, and likely will, be one of the top programs in the West again, but the Wildcats need to be patient.

• Pitt sophomore DeJuan Blair will have an interesting decision to make. He was co-Big East Player of the Year and created a lot of buzz this season. But there are reservations about his playing too low below the rim by NBA personnel. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he heeded the advice and returned to Pitt.

• Florida State's Leonard Hamilton isn't going after Memphis. Hamilton said the Seminoles could be "really good" next season, even with losing Toney Douglas. Hamilton doesn't think Solomon Alabi will declare. Alabi isn't ready and could blossom next season as he continues his offensive development in the post. Hamilton said he would use Derwin Kitchen at the point in place of Douglas. He said Kitchen is a driver and can handle the responsibilities of leading the Seminoles.

• Rocking crowds at Oregon State and sellouts at UTEP have meant the College Basketball Invitational is here to stay. CBI organizer Rick Giles was extremely pleased with the championship series. The key for this event as it moves toward a third year is getting lucky with the right programs that are willing to host ($60,000 host fee), which have enthusiastic fans who will end up building momentum toward the championship series. The CBI will always be viewed as the third tournament because of the name recognition behind the NCAA and NIT. But at the right schools, it can have modest success. NIT enthusiasm at Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Baylor and Penn State showed some programs will rally around the team even in a lesser event, compared to the NCAAs.