Six SEC early entrants go undrafted

A group of six SEC early entrants went undrafted and Pat Forde asks, 'What now?'

Originally Published: June 28, 2005
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

What now, Randolph Morris?

What now, Kelenna Azubuike?

You guys could have been part of a 2006 national championship contender at the University of Kentucky – maybe even the preseason No. 1 team. Instead you wake up today as young men without a team, or a grasp on your dream.

You whiffed in the NBA draft, making the worst career decisions since Michael Jordan decided he could hit a curve ball.

Azubuike went from Kentucky hero to undrafted free agent.

What now, Matt Walsh?

What now, Anthony Roberson?

You could have been part of a team equipped to battle Kentucky on even terms, the Florida Gators. Instead you wake up today with egos and expectations trampled after seeing 60 players picked by the NBA – none of them you. Your "advisers" who counseled you to turn pro and stay in the draft ... what are they telling you this morning – if they have the nerve to return your calls?

What now, Olu Famutimi?

What now, Kennedy Winston?

You bailed on Arkansas and Alabama, respectively, where you could have been key players on potential Top 25 teams. Instead you wake up today with the words "undrafted free agent" following your names, and no guaranteed money headed to your bank accounts. Hope you guys didn't spend too much advance money from your agents, because it could be hard to pay them back on a D-League salary.

Tuesday night, a looming lose-lose proposition came home to roost on the Southeastern Conference. And in the end, it was worse than even the most devout pessimists could have envisioned.

On the whole, it was a validating night for the stay-in-school activists. Eleven seniors were picked in the first round, and 14 of the first 38 picks were throwback players who actually embraced the quaint notion of a four-year, expenses-paid education and on-the-job basketball training. Eighteen of the 30 first-rounders were college seniors or juniors, continuing a trend that says three years of college is a sensible minimum for all but the most gifted players.

It was significantly less validating for guys like Chris Taft, who left Pittsburgh early and was exposed as under-skilled and under-motivated in NBA workouts, subsequently plummeting to No. 42. It definitely wasn't good for the six high school players who slipped into the second round – a development none of the sweet-talkers who counseled them on making the jump ever mentioned.

And it was a night that left nobody from the gutted SEC happy.

No league had more underclassmen declare. When the NBA scouts yawned in their direction, when the mock drafts ignored them, when the analysts predicted draft-night humiliation – most of them stubbornly stayed in anyway. And then Tuesday night was a disaster for the deluded.

Exactly one SEC player was drafted in the first round – a senior at that. Florida's David Lee was the 30th and last pick in the guaranteed-money zone. After that came LSU sophomore Brandon Bass at No. 33, Mississippi State signee Monta Ellis at No. 40, Georgia signee Louis Williams at No. 45 and Mississippi State senior Lawrence Roberts at No. 55.

After Lee, they're guaranteed absolutely nothing at this point. NBA earnings will most likely be contingent upon making a team, and that won't be easy. Only 24 percent of the current NBA players were second-round picks.

And those guys are the lucky ones compared to the SEC's undrafted half-dozen. Sixteen percent of The League membership was undrafted – but most of those guys had to scuffle around for years far off Broadway before getting their shot. (And that shot almost always comes at a league-minimum salary.)

Of the SEC's undrafted group, the kid who has to feel lousiest today is Morris. He nearly joined Atlanta AAU teammates Dwight Howard and Josh Smith in the draft out of high school but chose to attend Kentucky instead. Once there, Morris spent all season proving that he had no business in the draft, averaging a listless 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. He was considered one of the most underachieving freshmen in the nation.

But instead of returning for several seasons of seasoning, he stunned Kentucky by faxing coach Tubby Smith his declaration to enter the draft. Even after working out to tepid reviews, Morris left everyone hanging until the last minute and then issued a release through his new agency, SFX, saying that he was staying in the draft. (Now that Morris has gone undrafted, it's high time for SFX to earn its money.)

Between those two events, Morris spent his time scrupulously avoiding contact and counsel with Smith. That obviously would have made too much sense.

After all, the coach has only sent Tayshaun Prince, Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Mohammed, Keith Bogans, Scott Padgett and Erik Daniels into The League from Kentucky, so what would he know? His close ties to Pistons coach Larry Brown and others in the NBA wouldn't be worth much when it came to judging Morris' draft value, right? Clearly, it's better to listen to Word On The Street – or whatever word the kid was hearing – for this life-altering decision.

But Morris is just one of many young basketball players who wake up today wondering what happened to their American Dream. There was supposed to be a butler knocking on the door with a seven-figure contract on a platinum serving tray. He's nowhere to be found.

Here's the deal: A lot of these kids want someone to lie to them, and there are a blue million liars out there ready and willing to do so. When the going gets tough, the scammers get going – and the horribly flawed entity that is American youth basketball serves up scammer fodder by the dozens.

Too many kids don't want to go to school. (See: high schooler Amir Johnson, who turned pro instead of going to Louisville when he couldn't get the standardized test score for freshman eligibility. He was the 56th player picked, which is pretty much the bullet train to the D-League or overseas – not that Rick Pitino's program can offer anything that, say, Turkey is lacking.)

Too many kids don't want to live a world where hard work and demanding coaches are part of the daily routine. (News flash to the '06 hamburger All-Americans: several of the top college programs expect you to take charges, pass the ball AND go to class. Really!)

Too many kids don't want to believe that the world is bigger than the Nike and adidas all-star camps. (True, only four players were taken in the first round straight from international teams. But 10 foreign players went in the second round – and something tells me that Kennedy Winston and Matt Walsh were never warned by their "advisers" that their draft slots could be taken by the Uros Slokars and Cenk Akyols of the world.)

So the scammers sprinkle some feed in front of the pigeons, and pretty soon they're eating right out of their hands. But now those hands are empty, and they have no good explanations for what happened.

Instead of explanations, there is only one overriding question for the guys who gambled their education and lost:

What now?

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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