NBA will wait for these talents
Ronny Turiaf never considered declaring for the NBA draft.
Got that? Never.
Turiaf doesn't know why his name continued to be on potential draft lists of players who were considering the draft, or included with those "on the fence" all the way down to Monday's deadline for underclassmen to declare.
The junior forward was even against putting out a statement through the Gonzaga sports information department Monday. But he was pushed to do so, and went along with the party line.
All the while, Turiaf was smart enough to know that he was likely a first-round pick, but not a lock.
"It never popped in my head, never," Turiaf said Monday from Spokane, Wash. "I always knew I was coming back for my senior year at Gonzaga."
And, so he will. And once again, the Zags will be a preseason top 25 team because of it.
Turiaf led Gonzaga with 15.7 points and was second on the team with 6.2 rebounds a game. But he had a penchant to get into foul problems in big games, none more costly or untimely than the three first-half fouls he picked up against Nevada in the Zags' second-round NCAA Tournament loss to the Wolf Pack. Turiaf would play only 15 minutes, scoring 13 points (five rebounds) in picking up four fouls.
"I've got a lot of work to do," Turiaf said. "Nobody knows how much pain and regret I have about that Nevada game. We strive to advance in March and what happened in that game (picking up too many fouls to be effective) will never leave my mind."
A talented frontline player from the time he arrived in the Northwest via France, Turiaf's game remains in the development stage. The French native has an improving offensive repertoire, but as the Gonzaga coaching staff says, he's got to be a more consistent rebounder. NBA personnel are in agreement, waiting to see him be as productive at both ends of the court on the backboard.
But, if he can put together a consistent, injury-free and less foul-prone senior season, he's got a shot to not only solidify a spot in the first round, but climb close to the lottery in 2005. But put his draft stock aside for a minute. Returning for his senior season also means Turiaf becomes a candidate for national player of the year honors -- if he has the dominant season those at Gonzaga expect from their returning leader in scoring and rebounding.
Yes, the odds are against him winning such honors, but Turiaf certainly could put together a first-team All-American season. And, if he does, he'll easily slide into NBA team's radars.
Turiaf will be the featured player at Gonzaga. He'll team with junior college transfer J.P. Batista, a power forward who'll be joined inside and by swingman Sean Mallon, incoming freshman Josh Heytvelt and 7-1 New Zealander Calum MacLeod.
The Zags are also loaded on the wings with Erroll Knight, Adam Morrison, Texas Tech transfer Nathan Doudney and freshman David Pendergraft. The question mark will be the strength at point guard with Blake Stepp gone. Freshman Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes will compete with rising sophomore Derek Raivio for the starting job.
While this Gonzaga squad won't start out among the favorites to get to the Final Four (as some projected for last year's Zags), Turiaf and the staff are convinced that come March the Zags will be more than capable of advancing past the second round of the NCAAs for the first time since 2001.
Games at Missouri, likely Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City, Saint Louis at home and possibly Illinois in the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis will give the Zags and Turiaf plenty of early-season exposure. But the time for worrying about his draft position is over. His fourth year in college will most likely make him a lock for the first round, but his senior season also makes the Zags a lock for the first round of the NCAAs.
"You guys will be surprised by how much better we are in March once all the sophomores and freshmen melt together," Turiaf said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of making my team better, improving as a basketball player and of course graduating."
Yes, the NBA will have to wait for Turiaf, who wasn't the only underclassman who made an intelligent and sound decision to skip the early-entry deadline.
Without Felton, UNC wouldn't have a shot to win the ACC, let alone a national title. While the right team could have made him a lottery pick this spring, Felton wasn't a lock to even be picked in the teens. Felton would have had to play his way up teams' draft boards through individual workouts. Now, he's got another season in Carolina Blue to impress NBA scouts. This decision will prove to be the right one as Felton likely locks in his '05 lottery spot with a productive junior season.
Like Felton, the scouts weren't sold on McCants' total package. So, why not return to the Tar Heels -- who desperately need him as well to make a run in 2005. McCants' stock has been steady, and he'll likely be picked in the teens next June should he bypasses his senior season. There was no way he was going to jump any higher during workouts this month, so he made the right call by going back to Carolina.
Fry has got the low-post skills and the rebounding prowess to keep the NBA teams high atop the draft interested. But he understood earlier this season that he wasn't ready to make the jump. He wasn't satisfied with his season, let alone the Wildcats' first-round flameout in the NCAA Tournament. Few around Arizona thought he would make it through four years without being tempted to go to the NBA. But he did and he should be rewarded next season as a lottery pick and potentially by being the Pac-10 player of the year.
Adams, meanwhile, is the type of player who doesn't have a true position -- but he's a player who can do a little bit of everything. He could have tested the draft process and likely would have been a first-round pick. But he wouldn't have been a lock, making his decision to stay at Arizona a smart one. He's got a chance to climb higher if he can improve his fundamentals. He needs to work on his consistency as both a ballhandler and shooter.
In the case of Francis, a back injury kept him from finishing his sophomore season, so making the jump would have made no sense after this season. His return means the Irish have a shot to get back and advance in the NCAAs. Francis is more likely a four-year player for Mike Brey, but whenever he enters the draft, he's a got a legit shot to move into the middle of the first round.
So, why did Villanueva stay? He wasn't going to be a high first-round pick. He needs UConn as much as it needs him. If he can become more of a focal point next season, it'll increase his draft status in 2005 and beyond. Still, there was some pressure outside of Storrs for him to declare. But he was well-advised by returning to Connecticut. Now, the Huskies have a chance to make another deep run in 2005 and Villanueva will be one of the primary options. His stock can only go up as he gets even more touches and learns to play consistent defense.
Boone, meanwhile, wasn't ready for the NBA. He knew it. NBA teams are convinced of it. But they still would have drafted him in the first round based on his potential. That won't change in 2005 if he continues to be productive on the offensive and defensive glass. Boone hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential. But he remains on NBA teams' radar as one of the top big men to watch in the coming seasons.
Carney is on NBA scouts' radar screens because he's one of the top athletes in college basketball. He's the type of player who shines in individual workouts. But NBA teams want to see him develop as a more consistent rebounder next season. He can score and will continue to get more touches next season. Carney and Banks give Memphis two of the least appreciated players in the college game.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.