With so many jumping early, someone will miss

Originally Published: April 21, 2005
By Doug Gottlieb | Special to ESPN.com

Who do you trust?

The coach says you need another year. Your boys are telling you they read on some Web site that you are a lottery pick. Your parents are cool with whatever. You suddenly have two new cousins who want to take you to meet their "guy" who has hooked them up with a new ride. An agent has told you that he can get you any car you want with a line of credit. As you walk into a convenience store, an alumnus begs you to stay.

Will all of the forces pulling on underclassmen, it's inevitable some of them will make a mistake and jump too early into the NBA draft. This year could be particularly bad, with the large number of underclassmen who returned last season (helping college hoops enjoy a great season) and the looming draft age limit pushing a bunch of guys to make the leap.

For some of them, the waiting might just be beginning after the first round is over.

Anthony Roberson
Will Roberson's lack of size kill his first-round hopes?

Every year, it seems, the draft has a poster child. No, not the LeBrons and Okafors of the world. The other end. The guys who end up nowhere.

Who is going to be the Rick Rickert or the Carl English of this draft? We often recall gambles like Mo Williams, who has been a solid NBA point guard for two years, but we forget Marcus Taylor's second-round debacle and his never amounting to anything in the League.

Names like Ronald Blackshear, Mario Austin, Rod Grizzard, Doug Wrenn, Smush Parker and Tito Maddox linger in the aftermath of draft-day destructions, yet year after year there are droves of college players who forgo their full college eligibility for an earlier shot at their dream.

Sure, there are guys who make it big as second-rounders. Rashard Lewis went from green-room crier to $60 million man in Seattle (even as the bitterness of his draft-day snubbing fueled his negotiations). Carlos Boozer cashed in last summer (after some questionable morality opened the door for the Jazz). Gilbert Arenas may just have been underrated coming out of college. Now he's getting paid.

That said, the first round (and the guaranteed contract that goes with it) is the draft's holy grail. Nikoloz Tskitishvili may be a bigger bust than many drafted in the second round, but he's still pretty much set financially. Anyone who spends three years in the NBA cannot be a bust in the full sense of the word – at least he made it.

Traditionally, half of the second round doesn't ever play a game in the NBA. If you leave early for the draft, have a press conference, sign with an agent and do not play a game in the league, you are a bust.

So, who in this tepid climate of a possible lockout, combined with high school and foreign players worrying about the coming age limit increase (from 18 to 20, and it is coming) should be worried that they will slip into the second-round abyss?

Kelenna Azubuike, Kentucky
Azubuike has an NBA body. No one can deny that. His game, though, is far from complete enough to ensure he will absolutely be a first-round pick. Add to that he would have returned to a team capable of winning a national championship and you really wonder why he felt the need to sign with an agent, killing the option to return. If you look at some of the feel-good second-round breakthroughs, they usually are big men (Carlos Boozer) or point guards (Chris Duhon). Shooting guards take their game to the NBDL, CBA or overseas. In fairness, Azuibuike and his family have a difficult situation because of his father's legal troubles, but he has wanted to make this jump since high school (when there was no NBA interest) and he is going a year too soon.

Bracey Wright, Indiana
Sometimes stats can be deceiving, like the one that said Wright led the Big Ten in scoring. In actuality, he shot only 41 percent from the field in a season in which his team did not make the NCAA Tournament, again. Additionally, he is coming off of back surgery that could make many GMs cautious of giving him that first-round guarantee. While I previously stated that point guards have a tendency to make teams as second-round picks, Wright doesn't fit the role of a point. One, he must learn to create for more than just himself (just over two assists per game). Second, if point guards are like QBs and are judged by wins and losses, look at his Hoosiers teams. Wright, like Azubuike, has a talented team returning that could win the Big Ten and allow him to take better shots.

Anthony Roberson, Florida
So tell me again what he does well? He is a shooter, when open, who does not create for himself off the dribble or for his teammates in transition. While Roberson is a more pure shooter than Wright, he is small. Add to that a lack of buzz surrounding his entry into the draft, and even Billy Donovan, who promotes his players as well as any college coach, honestly has no clue if, or even when, Roberson will go in the draft. Here how the conversation will go in the NBA war room.

GM: "Can he shoot?"

Lead scout: "Yes."

GM: "Can he run a team?"

Scout: "Not sure."

GM: "How big is he?"

Scout: "Six feet."

GM: "We'll pass."

John Gilchrist, Maryland
He may not have had much of a choice as to whether to leave Gary Williams' program, but Gilchrist is a perfect case study on what not to do with your basketball career. Last year, he was the ACC tourney MVP. He should have left then, since he left in spirit then anyway. If you are going to come back, don't let it consume you to the point where it kills your team. Do you really think a team will draft (in the first round) a guy who seemed not want to play in the postseason with a questionable ankle injury? This league has plenty of high-priced prima donnas. Not sure they want one they can see coming. He is a talent and, in fact, he may make a team, but this is a classic case of actually staying too long ... or staying and not just playing ball.

Eric Williams, Wake Forest
Let me begin by saying I think Eric will go back to school. If he does not, though, I think he is taking a major risk in leaving because of the number of players with a similar skill set in this draft. While he has great hands and is finally in shape, he could use more polish. A couple of duels with Shelden Williams next year might be just the ticket that he needs to a first-round selection.

Doug Gottlieb is an analyst for ESPN and co-host of GameNight on ESPN Radio.

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