Commentary

Tar Heels scoff at 'testing the waters'

Originally Published: May 28, 2008
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The three North Carolina underclassmen here aren't testing the NBA draft process.

They want in. They want to be all the way in.

[+] EnlargeTy Lawson
Icon SMITy Lawson is looking to prove himself, after a shaky season on a gimpy ankle, at the pre-draft camp.

The problem for sophomores Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and junior Danny Green is that finding a first- or second-round guarantee before the June 16 deadline to withdraw from the draft might not be feasible.

But it could be a gamble that all might be willing to make if they can play well this week at the pre-draft camp and then during individual workouts for various teams around the league.

Lawson, the most likely of the three to be a first-round pick, said that North Carolina put out a statement that the players were testing the waters, a commonly used phrase for anyone who decides to declare for the draft but doesn't sign with an agent.

"But that's not the truth," he said Tuesday. "Everybody is in the draft to stay in the draft unless [they get hurt]. Comments like that are misleading to NBA teams, to say we're just testing the waters."

In North Carolina's defense, the phrase is part of the vernacular among NBA teams and colleges at this time of the year. And NBA personnel are smart enough to know whether a player is just trying to improve his name recognition or truly wants to stay in the draft.

All three Carolina players said they want to stay in the draft. But they're also realistic, and that's why they didn't sign with an agent. They understand they're not a given to go high enough in the draft to warrant skipping out on their remaining eligibility at Chapel Hill.

"Guys don't enter the draft unless they want to be in the draft," Ellington said. "I'm trying to raise my stock a bit and solidify a first-round position."

To their credit, they chose to play here this week. Big-name college players who are hyped throughout the season and considered a first-round pick (Lawson) and even a bubble first-round pick (Ellington) usually refuse to play at the camp. The list of underclassmen, whether they signed or didn't sign with an agent, who chose not to play and weren't on the physical-only list, is littered with potential first-round picks: Stanford's Robin Lopez, Cal's Ryan Anderson, Arizona's Chase Budinger, Kansas' Mario Chalmers, Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts, NC State's J.J. Hickson, Ohio State's Kosta Koufos, Florida's Marreese Speights and Kansas State's Bill Walker. None of them are at the camp.

When you declare, you're trying to go. There's no testing the waters. Every kid here wants to be drafted.

--Danny Green

Lawson said that he didn't plan on playing and even thought about pulling out earlier Tuesday, but his father called him and told him he should play. The camp started with drill work and team scrimmages Tuesday night at the Milk House on Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

"I wanted the exposure," Lawson said. "I didn't feel like I could do my thing during the school year because of my ankle [injury]. This way I can."

Lawson was hampered by a sprained left ankle that kept him out of seven of the team's 39 games last season.

He said that he was advised by "a lot of people" not to play. But he didn't want to "shy away from the competition. I wanted to play."

Point guards tend to flourish in these environments since they can control the ball. Each team will play a game a day, Wednesday through Friday. Lawson's team isn't filled with big-time scorers, save the potential that Dayton's Brian Roberts or VMI's Reggie Williams can find their stroke. That means Lawson has a good chance to dominate the ball and put up numbers in leading his team this week.

Lawson said he has lined up workouts with the L.A. Clippers (7th pick), Indiana (11), Sacramento (12), Washington (18) and Denver (20) after the draft camp. He said the new NCAA rule that allows the NBA teams to pay for the workouts made the decision to declare a no-brainer. Last year, the NCAA allowed only the expenses for the pre-draft camp to be covered. Underclassmen had to pay for workouts in advance and later show receipts if they wanted to return to school.

Coming back to Carolina isn't a dead issue for Lawson, but the run to the Final Four didn't leave him necessarily wanting more.

[+] EnlargeDanny Green, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRoy Williams will have Tyler Hansbrough back for next season. But what about Danny Green (left) and Wayne Ellington (center)?

"We had a nice run, went to the Final Four and a lot of teams don't do that," he said. "But the way it ended did leave a bad taste in our mouth [a double-figure national-semifinal loss to eventual champion Kansas]. If everyone did come back, we could make another run. But it was a good experience."

Ellington echoed Lawson's thoughts on the difficulty in swallowing the Kansas loss and how much easier it was to enter the draft now that teams pay for the workouts. Still, Ellington said the feedback he has received is that he's on the bubble for the first round, so he came to the pre-draft camp to secure a spot in the first round. Ellington will need to prove he can make shots and will need to get some touches from the point guards on his team, Ohio State's Jamar Butler and Alabama's Ronald Steele, if he's going to impress.

Ellington said he has workouts scheduled for the coming weeks with Seattle (4, 24), New Jersey (10, 21), Sacramento (12) and Toronto (17).

"It was a tough way to go out, but at the same time, … you go to college to fulfill one of your dreams [the NBA]," Ellington said.

Ellington added that he was shocked that Green declared for the draft, too, but "at the same time, he has big-time dreams as well."

Green said there seemed to be an assumption that only the team's Big Three -- national Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, Lawson and Ellington -- were considering declaring for the draft.

"It was a no-brainer that I was going to come back and no one was thinking about it, but I was thinking about it," said Green, who will play on a team with point guards Jeremy Pargo of Gonzaga and Ramel Bradley of Kentucky. "Coach advised me that it wasn't a good idea and that next year would be better for me, and he's probably right. But I feel I had a decent season and a decent tournament.

[+] EnlargeWayne Ellington
Bob Donnan/US PresswireWayne Ellington may be on the bubble for the first round, but will a second-round guarantee keep him in the draft?

"A lot of guys that were coming out I can compete with. They're from my class or younger so I want to see how I can do. The objective is to get drafted, and I'm trying to get into the first round, and if not, get a guaranteed contract in the second round."

Green said that by declaring for the draft, he's saying that he actually wants to be in the draft. He said that Hansbrough's decision proves he didn't want to go to the NBA.

"I'm not in Tyler's situation," Green said. "He's breaking records, and he has money. I'm not broke-poor, but my family doesn't have as much as Tyler. He's more fortunate, and I'm trying to do what's best for my family."

Green said he's looking for that one team to like him, to guarantee they'll pick him regardless of where in the draft.

"In college, a lot of guys aren't able to show off what they can do," said Green, who added he has to be much more assertive this week.

Not having to pay for the workouts made this a "win-win situation."

Green said he has workouts set up with Miami (obviously not for No. 2, but the Heat do have No. 52 in the second round), Washington (18, 47), Cleveland (19) and San Antonio (26, 45 and 57). And he's trying to secure a workout with Toronto (17). He also said Chicago (not for No. 1, but maybe for No. 39) wants him to work out if he stays in past the June 16 deadline to withdraw.

This is the first time coach Roy Williams has had players "test" the draft waters during his tenure at North Carolina. Players have either been in or out under him. Clearly, the Tar Heels will have to wait until June 16 to see if any one of these three will return to a team that brings back the national Player of the Year (Hansbrough), solid role players (Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson), a key guard (Bobby Frasor from a knee injury) and a stellar recruiting class (led by guard Larry Drew and forwards Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller).

"If I can't get a guaranteed contract in the second round, then I can come back to school," Green said. "Of course, when you declare, you're trying to go. There's no testing the waters. Every kid here wants to be drafted."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com