Premature decision has painted Bass into corner
Brandon Bass would have been in the draft a month ago if he hadn't declared last year.
Like many others, he would be testing the process, going through workouts, waiting to see whether he gets an invite to Chicago for the pre-draft camp.
If he had the option.
"It'd be done already," the LSU sophomore said earlier this week of his decision on whether to declare. "I should have never come out last year."
Why not? Because the NCAA only allows players to declare one time and still retain their eligibility.
Knowing that, Bass has taken his full allotment of time before Saturday's declaration deadline. A statement is expected sometime late Friday.
So why would a player declare before completing his junior season if he's not sure he's a first-round pick? Why go through it and potentially burn your real chance to test the process?
Well, apparently Bass did get something out of declaring after his freshman year.
He said he went to 11 different cities, worked out against some of the top players in last year's draft and, in Chicago, got to see whether he was a first-round pick. He wasn't, so he returned for his sophomore season, a year in which he raised his scoring from 12.8 to 17.3 per game and rebounding from 7.4 to 9.1 per game.
Oh, and by the way, he was also named the SEC player of the year.
But how much did going through the draft process help him? It's hard to say whether it had any direct effect on his increased production.
"It was tough going through all of it because sometimes I would have to fly out at 5 a.m. and get to a city and have a workout at 10 a.m.," Bass said. "Declaring for the draft is something that you really, really have to want to do. Everybody is competing for spots, for jobs.
"I learned something from it, but it also could have helped me if I had saved it for this year. You've got to have a feel for it."
Burning the only time you can test the process is a real problem. Auburn's Toney Douglas might regret declaring after his freshman season if he returns. If he has a decent season as a sophomore, he could be in a similar pickle, debating whether he should blow off his final two years of college by declaring.
The high school players testing the process, at least a few of the 10, could find themselves second-guessing their decisions, too. Washington junior Brandon Roy declared for the draft out of high school, then withdrew. Had he not done that, Roy probably would have tested the process this spring. Instead, he is going back to the Huskies without a real read on his draft stock.
Declaring after your junior season, at least for the first time, is legitimate. That's what the process is probably designed for under NCAA rules. But what about the players who declare, even after their junior year, and don't get even a sniff of the Chicago pre-draft camp. What's the point?
Marco Killingsworth tried that avenue. He left Auburn to declare for the draft but didn't get an invitation to Chicago (well, he said he got his paperwork in late and was denied). That didn't stop him. He still went to Chicago and worked out in a gym with some other random players, hoping an NBA general manager would catch a glimpse.
"I was hoping that someone would stick their head in and give me a look," Killingsworth said.
It didn't happen.
Killingsworth said he believed that if he could have gotten into a camp, he could have shown a team his talent.
"I wanted to get my name out there more and more," Killingsworth said.
Instead, he couldn't even return to Auburn. There was a coaching change, and Killingsworth didn't want to play for Jeff Lebo. He transferred to Indiana where, he said, Mike Davis will give him the freedom to shoot the ball and play some point, even though he has a power forward's body.
Still, Killingsworth's sitting out this past season killed any buzz he was hoping to get out of declaring.
"The benefit for declaring is to get your name out there so that guys like Dick Vitale are pumping you," Killingsworth said.
Is that really what's it about?
We're not sure. But juniors such as Georgetown's Brandon Bowman, Cincinnati's James White, Notre Dame's Torin Francis, George Washington's Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Arizona's Chris Rodgers all fall into a similar category. None was guaranteed a Chicago invite (the list will come out sometime next week). None of them might get any more hype next season, if he returns, just because he declared.
Through Friday morning, 50 underclassmen had declared for the NBA draft. Roughly 33 of them supposedly haven't signed with agents. How much will those players benefit if they return to school? Maybe not much at all, because playing in Chicago or going to workouts one year has no bearing on getting drafted when you do finally come out for good.
Just ask a player like Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, who declared after his sophomore season and is now hoping to be a second-round pick after his senior season. Or maybe someone like Arizona's Jason Gardner, who declared after his sophomore season in 2001, returned, but then went undrafted after his senior year.
"At the time [after my sophomore year], I felt I was ready," said Gardner, who is playing in Belgium. "You should know if you're ready. If you feel in your heart that you should go, then go. Go full force at it. Sometimes, people put their names in the draft and they're not sure what they're doing. If you're going to do it, then do it with all your energy into it."
Gardner said he doesn't regret declaring. But clearly it wasn't the experience he expected, especially when he was sat down and told he should go back to school. It was a humbling three days for him in Chicago.
This usually occurs to at least one player a year, but changes could be coming.
If the NBA and NBAPA agree to move the date to declare up to a few days after the Final Four, that would cut down on the players who aren't serious about declaring. The draft withdrawal date also could be moved up, from a week before the draft to two days after the Chicago pre-draft camp in June, rolling it back by seven to 10 days.
Those changes would have more impact than the proposed NBA draft age limit. There could still be plenty of 20-year-old freshmen and sophomores prematurely burning their one chance to test the process.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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