While watching Monday's NCAA championship game between Florida and Ohio State, I took notice of a handful of players who will be facing a decision to go pro sooner rather than later.
Prospects look ready for NBA
When I saw the fierce competitiveness of Ohio State's Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., and that of Florida's Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, for me, unless they feel they have something left to prove in college, I saw players who are ready for the NBA draft.
Once the excitement of the tournament dies down, these players should be weighing their options by talking with those they are confident have their best interest at heart, whether it's friends, family or a coach.
And it's not just the money that motivates these decisions. We should remember that these are competitive players, who arrived at this game in part because they've spent a great deal of time looking for the best competition in their respective cities and states, motivated by challenges.
For me, I think an underemphasized motivation is, and a question they will ask themselves in the coming days:
"Am I ready to come and join the big boys?"
The answer on the court seemed to be "yes" on Monday. Here's some impressions from the title game for these five, who would all likely be lottery picks if they were to come out this year:
• Oden -- A very special player, and he demonstrated it against Florida. For three-quarters of the game, he was all they had. He got tired, but he showed the heart of a champion and kept fighting.
He was the dominant inside presence against two of the dominant inside players in college. It looks like his offensive game is coming around. It's hard to judge because he had developed his left hand this year because of his injured right hand. Now his improved left hand skills are a bonus.
Where will he land? The centerpiece of almost any team is any center. If your team has the opportunity to get that piece, you would give up quite a bit. He has the potential to be one of the best defensive centers -- if not the best -- in the league.
• Horford -- A very impressive player. Could be the best all-around big man that Florida has. Somebody you can tell is a hard worker, is well coached by Billy Donovan, and knows how to play game of basketball.
• Noah -- His presence isn't always going to show up in the stat sheet, but I think he had an impact on this game because he played so hard. He's going to have an impact on the NBA game with his fire. Playing with reckless abandon is very valuable. That gets everybody excited, and you can't help but play hard and practice hard -- it uplifts everything about a team.
• Brewer -- He's 6-8 with that great speed and all-around game. I think he's going to be a potent offensive player and a defensive stopper. They put him on Conley a lot, and he seemed to bother him with his length.
• Conley Jr. -- Very, very fast. A good shooter. Quick with the ball, great crossover dribble. Basically defenders cannot stay in front of him.
The days ahead will be busy for these players, but when a quiet time comes, it will be time for them to think about what's in their hearts.
Kobe, Duncan, Dirk and Nash are waiting.
ESPN analyst Kiki Vandeweghe, who was the Nuggets GM until this season, spent his formative years traveling around Los Angeles, looking for the best hoop challenges.
• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang
AP Photo/CP, Aaron Harris
Raptors guard Jose Calderon, left, and Chris Bosh have had much to smile about lately. They could finish as No. 3 seed, possibly squaring off against a Caron Butler-less Wiz.
Calvin Booth came off the bench to score 11 points and grab 11 rebounds in 22 minutes in the Wizards' 121-107 win at Milwaukee. It was only the second double-double of Booth's seven-year NBA career (323 games) and the first this season by a Washington sub. The only teams without a double-double from a sub this season are the Mavericks and the Spurs.
Houston's Jeff Van Gundy or Utah's Jerry Sloan probably will win the Coach of the Year award, and I have no problem with either of those guys taking the honor. But Toronto's Sam Mitchell should be in the conversation.
Without any fear of overstatement, I can say that Mitchell has done a tremendous job this season with the Raptors, who currently hold a seven-game lead in the Atlantic Division.
That alone could be 'nuff said because few were picking Toronto to make the playoffs in the preseason, let alone win its division. But there's much more to the story than that.
First, the Raptors added nine new players this season, including several from overseas. Yet Mitchell's gotten them to mesh together and play as a well-oiled machine. Since starting the season 13-19, the Raptors have gone 28-13.
Second, and in my opinion even more impressively, Mitchell has kept his team winning while his best players have been out with injuries. All four of the Raptors starters outside of Rasho Nesterovic have missed at least six games this season.
Wade feels good after practice
AP Photo/Alan Diaz
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, right, passes the ball as teammate Jason Kapono tries to block during practice. Wade returned to practice for the first time after injuring his right shoulder about six weeks ago.
When you're making up a list of great coaches, some of the names are so obvious. Phil Jackson, Roy Williams, Van Chancellor, Pedro Ferrandiz, Mirko Novosel ... I mean, once you say the first one, the other four just kind of roll off your tongue, don't they?
Unfortunately, the announcement of the Zen Master's Hall of Fame induction today only highlights Springfield's ridiculously shoddy treatment of the NBA. It's bad enough that they elected five coaches and a referee but not a single player (Adrian Dantley and Chris Mullin were among those who didn't make the cut); what makes it worse is that they continue to select mediocre college coaches and anonymous international ones, at the expense of great pro ones like Dick Motta and Don Nelson.
I don't mean to put down Roy Williams or the other three guys. But look at the voting patterns in recent years -- it's not the Basketball Hall of Fame, folks, it's the College Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame Plus a Few Other Guys. Over the past 10 years, the institution has inducted 25 coaches and nine contributors ... but only 20 players.
Tanky Mctankerson (Milwaukee): Just wanted to let you know that we're resting every player who's played for us this season. Our new lineup will be Paul Mokesi and whoever's sitting in section 213, row A.
John Hollinger: No wonder I saw Junior Bridgeman in last night's box score. At the time I thought it was a typo. You'll know the Bucks are serious about tanking when Michael Redd starts getting non-specific bouts of "tendinitis."
Benny: (Indy): Shouldn't the Pacers lose the rest of their games so that they can get their draft pick from Atlanta?
John Hollinger: Let me put it this way ... if the playoffs become unrealistic, I would expect Jermaine O'Neal to be shut down and Jamaal Tinsley to suddenly discover he has "back spasms" or something ... Indy is one game ahead of NY and Minnesota for No. 10 right now, and if I remember right the pick is top-10 protected. Of course, Minnesota will be tanking just as hard to avoid giving the Clippers a pick from the Marko Jaric trade, so it may be for naught.
Chad Ford reviews the play of key NBA prospects that played this weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Did anybody move up or down?
There are four true contenders for Coach of the Year -- Sam Mitchell in Toronto, Avery Johnson in Dallas, Jerry Sloan in Utah and Jeff Van Gundy in Houston -- for whom a strong case can be made, and I'm thinking whichever one finishes the season with a head of steam will give voters a reason to separate one of them from the pack.
Sloan: In some years, awards turn into a referendum on someone's career accomplishments rather than reflecting on a single season, and there's a sentiment out there that Sloan has gone unrecognized for far too long. (His top assistant, Phil Johnson, was Coach of the Year in 1974-75 for the K.C.-Omaha Kings; and the co-host of Utah's pregame radio broadcasts is Tom Nissalke, who won Coach of the Year in 1976-77 for Houston.) Best Sloan stat: The Jazz have rallied from 10-plus point deficits to win an NBA-high 16 times.