Last-minute draft decisions loom
North Carolina coach Roy Williams hasn't had a player test the NBA draft process and return to play at Chapel Hill.
That's mainly because the NBA-level players he recruits and coaches are coveted enough to leave little doubt about their draft status. All that is up for debate is the actual spot in the first round.
And now that UNC has announced that sophomore guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are indeed testing the waters, entering the draft but not signing with an agent, Williams will have to sweat out more decisions. But he did get big news when consensus national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough announced he will return for his senior season after taking his decision down to the final 48 hours prior to Sunday's deadline.
The indecisiveness of the Carolina trio is rare for Williams. After the Tar Heels won the title in 2005, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Marvin Williams and Raymond Felton were gone within two weeks of cutting down the nets in St. Louis. Last year, freshman forward Brandan Wright didn't hesitate to declare after the season-ending Elite Eight loss.
The uncertainty of where Hansbrough, Lawson and Ellington would be slotted in this year's draft was enough for them to stall. According to a North Carolina spokesperson, Williams has spoken to 18 different teams and six to seven general managers.
Never has Williams had to sweat out the deadline. But the way the rules have changed, the question is: Why would any player who is even mulling a decision push the deadline when he can extend his final decision another two months until the draft withdrawal date on June 16?
"It's unbelievable that some guys will sign with agents," Arizona coach Lute Olson said Friday. Arizona freshman guard Jerryd Bayless did sign with an agent after he declared. Sophomore forward Chase Budinger has not signed with an agent.
Like Olson and other coaches, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim doesn't understand why a player who isn't a lock for the top-five would sign with an agent now. His player, Donte Greene, indicated he would stay in the draft after he declared earlier this month. Yet Greene could slide as more players declare both here and abroad, and that could push him farther down in the draft.
Texas' D.J. Augustin declared without signing with an agent, although that is clearly just a safety net. A Texas spokesperson said Augustin was doing that just to make sure he didn't get injured, which could force him to return to Texas for another season. But Augustin isn't expected to return to the Longhorns.
Of course, agents will argue that the next two months can be critical for draft position and that signing with an agent can help a prospect get on rigid training and nutritional programs that are monitored more closely than if the player hasn't signed. That's a debatable argument. But the NBA picks are slotted financially, so unless there are marketing deals to be had (and that's really only for the top players), then preserving amateur status over the next two months makes more sense.
Olson said that signing with an agent during these next two months is pointless. He said players don't know the draft order yet (they will on May 20), and they don't know what foreign players have declared and where they may be slotted.
And, especially this year, the new NCAA rule about the NBA draft makes giving up your amateur status even more absurd.
The new rule allows NBA teams to pay for players' workouts with individual teams. This rule has changed multiple times through the years. Now, an underclassman can have his expenses paid for during his draft experience, including the Orlando pre-draft camp (May 27-30). And he still can withdraw from the draft on June 16 (10 days prior to the draft) and retain his amateur status.
"Testing the waters doesn't do them any harm since the rules have changed," Olson said. "One of the things that they couldn't do in the past was afford to fly to these places to be eligible. Now the NBA teams can pay for a tryout in Boston and everywhere else. It eliminates that thing of, 'How did that guy get the money?' Why in the world would you want to sign with an agent?"
But what it also has done is opened up the floodgates for a plethora of players to declare in the recent weeks, like Missouri's Leo Lyons and Texas A&M's Josh Carter on the heels of Memphis' Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson and Texas' A.J. Abrams.
UCLA's Darren Collison is one of the names who had yet to declare by Friday morning. UCLA coach Ben Howland said on Friday that he didn't want to comment on Collison. But the Bruins staff wouldn't be surprised if Collison declared but later withdrew from the draft and returned to UCLA. Collison called a 5 p.m. ET teleconference Saturday to discuss his decision.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has said for weeks that he wouldn't be surprised if center Hasheem Thabeet returned, too. Thabeet, like the Carolina trio and Collison, was one of the last major names to make a decision.
One of the few name players from 2007-08 who didn't declare was Davidson sophomore guard Stephen Curry. He made up his mind early that he was going to stay in school and not even bother testing the draft process. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin also decided early in the process to return to school.
But the number of teams that have multiple players testing the draft process -- Memphis, Kansas, UCLA, Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri -- continues to grow.
And that will make for a selection process to the Orlando pre-draft camp that may be as tough for that committee as selecting teams for the NCAA field was a month ago for the selection committee. Pete Babcock, the former general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, said Thursday that the toughest thing for the committee will be to discern who is willing to play, who just wants to be evaluated to return to college and who just wants to be given a physical. There are only 60-70 spots in Orlando, and if the current trend continues, the majority of those slots may go to underclassmen rather than seniors.
The new draft rule of the NBA paying for workouts seems to mean that everyone is in to test the waters. Waiting until the 11th hour Friday to make the decision for players at UNC, UCLA and UConn is not the norm.
If the goal is to just test the process, without an agent, then waiting until Sunday's deadline to announce a decision seems to be a bit of unnecessary drama for everyone involved.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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