Commentary

Six more weeks to sweat it out

With the draft withdrawal deadline set for June 15, some coaches preparing for worst

Originally Published: April 30, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio has no idea if he'll have a team that could compete for the ACC title and an NCAA tournament berth next season.

And he might not know until June 15, the early-entry withdrawal date for the NBA draft.

Gaudio, like a number of head coaches, is waiting to see if his star player will return or stay in the draft. This is the annual spring angst college coaches go through during the draft process. A year ago, North Carolina coach Roy Williams had no clue he would have a title contender, while Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green went through the draft experience.

Gaudio is sweating out his leading scorer, Jeff Teague. The sophomore was a lock for the lottery, or so it seemed in January when he was putting up 30 points in a win at BYU and 34 in a win over North Carolina. But the scoring tapered off, and so did the Demon Deacons toward the end of the season.

[+] EnlargeJeff Teague
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWake's Jeff Teague averaged 18.8 ppg and shot 44.1 percent from the 3-point line last season.

Teague was no longer a lock for the lottery. His tenuous draft position forced him to "test" rather than go all the way in like his teammate and classmate, sophomore forward James Johnson, a likely lottery pick.

"It's incredibly difficult, and I'm doing my very best to get Jeff the best information so that he can make a good decision," Gaudio said. "I'm trying to have balance. But on June 15, if he stays, there's no one out there that can be an impact player. This is what makes building a program so much more difficult. You can't plan."

No, you can't. And coaches who have gone down this road before, and those who are dealing with this for the first time, are discovering that there is no Plan B.

The Demon Deacons did have one star who decided against declaring, freshman Al-Farouq Aminu. If Teague returns, the Deacons will be in the thick of the ACC race. If he doesn't, Wake will likely be too one-dimensional and an NIT path might be more likely.

The Demon Deacons would have to rely on Ishmael Smith, Gary Clark and L.D. Williams on the perimeter. None of them is a big-time scorer like Teague. As it is, Wake won't have the matchup problems that Johnson posed for opponents in the past.

On the other side of the country, Saint Mary's is in an even more fragile state. If Patty Mills stays in the draft, the Gaels are destined for a second-tier tournament, if that. If Mills were to return, they'd have four starters back and have a real shot to challenge for an NCAA berth and -- who knows? -- maybe nip at Gonzaga's heels again for the WCC title.

"It certainly makes a difference," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Without him, we'll be young."

Mickey McConnell, who was the backup point and started when Mills was out with a broken right hand, won't be as disruptive a playmaker. Opposing teams won't have to figure out ways to contain him. Not having Diamon Simpson will be a huge loss, but that was expected. Omar Samhan returns to be the beef in the middle, and with Mills dishing to him, Samhan has a better chance to be a productive post.

As far as scheduling is concerned, Bennett can't wait around until June to see if Mills returns. So Bennett is already trying to get any game he can to upgrade the schedule. He said he nabbed Vanderbilt on the Commodores' way out to the Maui Invitational, and the Gaels are signed up to play in the Diamond Head Classic with headliners USC and UNLV. Return games to Oregon, Utah State and San Jose State were already on the docket.

Kentucky is in a similar situation. The Wildcats will either be a conference title contender if Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson return from testing the draft or a younger and inexperienced team if they don't. John Calipari does have two stud newcomers in Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins (and could have another if stud point guard John Wall commits).

If the Wildcats don't have as many drivers next season, Calipari said he can play those two together in Patterson's absence and the dribble-drive-motion offense would need to be tweaked. The key, Calipari said, is if they can land a competent point to run the system. Obviously that would be Wall, if Kentucky is fortunate enough to get him, but it could be someone else -- Eric Bledsoe perhaps? -- as the Wildcats are still actively recruiting the position. Calipari said without Meeks and Patterson the Wildcats would resemble some of his UMass teams that were more grinding than finesse.

If Kentucky were to resemble a UMass team from the 1990s, then UCLA might be like Ben Howland's previous Pitt teams that lacked a star and were grinders as well -- that is, if freshman Jrue Holiday stays in the draft. The Bruins are waiting to see what Holiday will do, no doubt hoping he sees how he could be a star next season with Darren Collison out of the way.

Howland said the Bruins aren't going to sign someone in the spring just to land a body. They're not going to get another headline star at this juncture to replace Holiday. The team, as described by the staff, would be a scrappy bunch, without much hype or national respect, if Holiday bolted. But it's not like there's nothing left. The frontcourt is still pretty solid with James Keefe, Nikola Dragovic, J'mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, and newcomers Mike Moser, Tyler Honeycutt, Brendan Lane, Anthony Stover and Reeves Nelson jockeying for minutes. The perimeter will lean on Michael Roll for shooting and Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson for penetration and delivery of the ball if Holiday is out.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Varnado
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJarvis Varnado has led the country in blocked shots in each of the past two seasons, totaling 313 during that span.

The UCLA coaching staff is holding out hope that Holiday won't be tempted by a possible draft slot in the first round. So, too, is Mississippi State, with Jarvis Varnado.

"There's no Plan B; we feel good about this," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.

But Varnado is an intriguing prospect. He's as long as they come, a developing post presence who was the nation's leading shot-blocker last season. But the Bulldogs aren't sitting idle, despite the public face that they believe Varnado won't leave for good. MSU is the likely destination for Renardo Sidney, the Fairfax High (Calif.) center who once committed to USC but is now out in the open market.

With Varnado, the defending SEC tournament title champs are a lock for the Top 25. Without him, they are not. But even if Sidney arrives, the Bulldogs won't have the intimidation of Varnado along the back line.

The situation isn't as dire at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are waiting out Austin Daye's decision. But Daye is expendable. The Bulldogs don't need him to be WCC champs or an NCAA tournament team. Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson provide the Zags with a solid backcourt. Robert Sacre will be the post, and the likely small forward replacement for Daye would be Kelly Olynyk, a 6-foot-10 forward out of Canada.

The newcomer class of G.J. Vilarino, Mangisto Arop and Samuel Dower should contribute, too. Gonzaga wants Daye to return, of course, but there isn't the same level of concern as there was last year when Jeremy Pargo tested the process. Goodson was an unknown, and the Bulldogs needed Pargo at the point to feel comfortable for a possible deep March run.

Miami's Frank Haith and Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon don't seem to be worrying about a Plan B, either, since the players who declared off their squads -- Dwayne Collins for the Hurricanes and Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis and Chinemelu Elonu for the Aggies -- have little or no chance of being drafted. That word is surely trickling down to them, and a withdrawal is likely.

That's also probably the case for South Carolina's junior guard tandem of Devan Downey and Dominique Archie. But there's nothing coach Darrin Horn can do at this juncture but wait, hope and anticipate that common sense will prevail and he'll have his backcourt back for next season. He's not going to find anyone comparable in talent at this stage, and just as important, could not replace the experience of fifth-year seniors.

"You're not going to replace that," Horn said. "We're supporting them, and this is a learning experience for them. But we have to move forward. We'd love to have them back, we want them back, but we have to see how this develops."

The Gamecocks just missed the NCAA tournament with a 10-6 SEC record and finished 21-10 overall after an NIT loss to Davidson. They recruited Lakeem Jackson and Ramon Galloway for the backcourt, but the plan was for them to come along behind Archie and Downey.

"We'll just make adjustments if we have to," Horn said. "There's not a lot we can do. This is the way the system is set up right now. You're never going to go out and replace good enough players who stay in the draft unless you've done it ahead of time in the fall. We've got young guys coming in, but not two players of that caliber."

And so in Columbia, the Gamecocks and their faithful simply wait for the process to play itself out.

Look around the country: They're not alone.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com