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Thursday, June 26
Updated: July 14, 11:30 AM ET
 
College seniors score first-round knockout
By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Boston College's Troy Bell and Duke's Dahntay Jones didn't duck a workout. They didn't shy away from playing in Chicago at the pre-draft camp.

And guess where they went? Both were taken in the first round by Boston, but then shipped to Memphis in a trade.

Bell and Jones were the two seniors who were rewarded for their hard work more than any other players during Thursday's NBA draft.

Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich, right, was the first college senior to be drafted Thursday.
The two wanted to play in Chicago instead of staying away from the pre-draft camp. They were two of the best players at the camp. Bell was the top scorer and Jones was clearly the most athletic and maybe the strongest wing. They were projected as bubble first-round picks, but Memphis' brass of Jerry West and Hubie Brown were enamored with their work ethic. The Grizzlies didn't get caught up in the hype of an international player or a college underclassman. They wanted experience and someone who was willing to play with passion and hunger on the court.

Bell and Jones should give the Grizzlies an immediate lift with their ability to motivate and lead. Bell was a two-time Big East Player of the Year award winner. Jones was a Rutgers and Duke stud who didn't shy away from contact at either spot.

Sure, the top three picks were their own story with LeBron James, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony dominating the first part of the draft. But just as prevailing were the number of seniors taken in the draft. Seniors outnumbered international players in the first round 9-8, with college underclassmen numbering eight in the first round. College seniors weren't as successful last season with only Tayshaun Prince producing (and not until the playoffs for Detroit). But the seven seniors weren't finished products as these nine or the dozen taken in the second round.

Boston got UNLV senior Marcus Banks in a trade with Memphis, picking up an experienced point guard who should produce next season.

Kansas seniors Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison went in the lottery and should help Chicago and Seattle, respectively. Orlando got the guard it coveted in Louisville senior Reece Gaines. Utah picked up the power player it needed in Xavier's David West. The Lakers got a steal in the first with Illinois' Brian Cook, the Big Ten Player of the Year who is a face-the-basket scoring power forward. And Dallas probably picked up a hidden gem at the end of the first round in Wake Forest senior guard Josh Howard.

The second round was littered with seniors who have a decent chance to make their respective teams -- UCLA's Jason Kapono (Cavaliers), Arizona's Luke Walton (Lakers), BYU's Travis Hansen (Hawks), Kentucky's Keith Bogans (Bucks traded him to the Magic), Miami's James Jones (Pacers) and Ohio's Brandon Hunter (Celtics).

College coaches can use this draft as a great selling point to recruits and incoming players. Seniors do get drafted in droves and put in the right situations to be successful. And, the number of international players -- a record 21 -- and new mark of five high school players means there are fewer spots for college underclassmen.

If that selling point doesn't work, then let them watch Bell and Jones to see if they're ready for the NBA.

Promises, promises
The NBA draft once again went through the exercise of promising certain players they would get drafted. Teams can deny that it exists but there were promises made, according to a number of sources. High school senior Kendrick Perkins was promised by Boston that he wouldn't get past them. The Celtics ended up working a trade with Memphis that included one of their other promises to a player -- Banks. The Celtics got the two players they wanted in the deal, and Perkins and Banks were assured that they didn't have to sweat out the draft. Outlaw, of Starkville High (Miss.), also received a promise to go to Portland at No. 23. He told Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury a week ago that he received a promise to go to Portland. But Outlaw later denied it occurring. Stansbury was right that Outlaw stayed in the draft because of the guarantee. The same kind of guarantee was in the works for Arizona signee Westbury Christian High (Houston, Texas) forward Ndudi Ebi. He went No. 26 to Minnesota after being told he wouldn't slip out of the first round.

Poor decisions
Hawaii junior Carl English and N.C. State sophomore Josh Powell ruined any chance of returning to college by signing with an agent. English and Powell could have gone back to school since neither was drafted Thursday night. The NCAA rule allows players who sail through undrafted to go back if they ask to return within 30 days of the draft. U.C. Irvine's Jerry Green went back for his senior season two years ago under this same rule. English graduated so his return wasn't a total shock, but Powell left N.C. State believing he would be a possible first-round pick, or at the very least, a second-round pick. A number of scouts after the Chicago pre-draft camp said that Powell could have been a first-round pick in 2004. Both players will get on summer league rosters but they won't have a favorite status.

Minnesota sophomore Rick Rickert left the Gophers on the hunch that he would be a first-round pick. But he got a rude awakening Thursday night. Rickert wasn't selected until the hometown Timberwolves bailed him out when they took him with the No. 55 pick.

Alabama sophomore Maurice Williams thought he was a possible first-round pick when he stayed in the draft. There were some earlier reports that he could go to Boston at No. 20 but those cooled in recent weeks. Instead, Williams was likely embarrassed to go deep in the second round, No. 47 to Utah. Williams will have to earn his keep if he's going to stick on a roster. It's the second year in a row that an underclassman from Alabama (Rod Grizzard) went early thinking they were first-round material but ended up in the second round.

Mississippi State junior forward Mario Austin was convinced that he was a first-round pick when he flirted with declaring for the draft last year. When he did again this year, the consensus was that he could get into the first round. But he left the Bulldogs for the No. 36 pick of the Chicago Bulls. Austin has a chance to make the roster but he won't get the guaranteed money. The alarming stat for Mississippi State is that the one player who hadn't proven anything -- signee Outlaw -- got a guarantee and was taken by Portland at No. 23 -- and the one that played three seasons (Austin) couldn't land in the first round.

Shocking picks or no picks
Washington's selection of Steve Blake (No. 38) was a stunner, but because of the position, not the name. Blake had been a hot discussion topic the past few weeks. His workouts improved and he was still flying under the radar. Blake blew off the Portsmouth Invitational in April and then passed on Chicago in early June with the word being he was hurt. Blake was considered a possible pick, but not that high in the second round.

The SEC had six players taken, but it was the two left out that was surprising. Back-to-back SEC Player of the Year winners -- Alabama's Erwin Dudley and Tennessee's Ron Slay -- weren't selected.

The winners
They might be Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, Texas Tech's Andre Emmett and Washington State's Marcus Moore. They all would have struggled to get into the first round. They made the right decisions to try and give it a shot next season.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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