- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
College coaches got their wish for 2010: no more angst around the early-entry withdrawal deadline. For this final year, though, there was plenty of angst to go around.
The NCAA passed a rule in which the new deadline to withdraw will be moved up significantly. It'll be May 8 next year. (The NBA won't officially change its current date of 10 days before the draft until the new collective bargaining agreement is reached with the players' association in 2011.)
That meant the 2009 draft provided the last anxious moments as a select number of coaches across the country waited for decisions on whether or not star players would stay in the draft or return to school. Underclassmen such as Davidson's Stephen Curry and Pitt's DeJuan Blair didn't create much mystery and declared their intentions long ago. So those schools won't be included on this list. Neither will programs like Syracuse, which saw Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris sign with agents back in April instead of "testing the waters."
Other players, though, took it right down to the buzzer.
In the end, there were plenty of winners and losers in the process, but only one team can truly be labeled a draw.
That team is Kentucky.
The Wildcats lost one player Monday when Jodie Meeks, the SEC's leading scorer last season (23.7 points per game), decided to stay in the draft. But UK gained just as big a prize last month when Patrick Patterson withdrew.
Kentucky may not be No. 1 in some preseason polls after Meeks' decision, but first-year coach John Calipari will still have a formidable crew worthy of a top-10 ranking and on the short list of potential Final Four teams. Calipari said Meeks' decision will allow him to play highly touted prospect Eric Bledsoe alongside much-hyped point guard John Wall, arguably the top pick in the 2010 draft if he enters. Newcomer Darnell Dodson will also provide plenty of scoring pop. Patterson will be the anchor inside with newcomers DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton.
Notre Dame: Luke Harangody's return means the Fighting Irish are a legit top-25 candidate and NCAA tournament team next season. Harangody isn't going to win a national title, but he can go down as the greatest in Notre Dame history in a number of statistical categories. His return also gives the Irish a chance to avenge a disappointing finish last season and get back to the NCAAs.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs needed Jarvis Varnado back to be taken seriously as a potential SEC West and overall champ. Varnado might end up becoming the NCAA's all-time leader in blocked shots and will be one of the true forces in college basketball next season. If Renardo Sidney and John Riek both end up on the court in Starkville, MSU becomes a serious national contender.
Tennessee: At one point, Tyler Smith was considered a lock to stay in the draft and try his luck in Europe if he didn't get selected. But he changed his mind and the Volunteers will be a major player in the SEC East with every relevant piece of their team returning.
Texas: The decision by Damion James, to go alongside a stellar recruiting class, means the Longhorns will be loaded for a run at Kansas in the Big 12 and a possible spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Maryland: With Greivis Vasquez back, the Terps return just about everyone and are a good bet to be in the top 25 in the country and top five in the ACC. Vasquez should be one of the premier point guards in the country next season and a first-round pick in 2010.
Villanova: Scottie Reynolds couldn't get a guarantee in the first round. So the guard who hit the shot of the NCAA tournament (sorry, Pitt fans) is back to lead the Wildcats in their attempt to make it back-to-back Final Fours. Nova will be the preseason favorite in the Big East.
Georgia Tech: Gani Lawal made an informed decision. His return means the Yellow Jackets have a very real shot to go from 2-14 in the ACC to 10 league wins and an NCAA tournament appearance. Lawal and highly touted newcomer Derrick Favors will ensure Tech becomes relevant again.
Arizona: The Wildcats desperately needed someone with experience and leadership abilities to handle the transition from two seasons of interim coaches to Sean Miller. Nic Wise can deliver on all counts. He will ensure the Cats are a player in the Pac-10 next season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were one or two wins away from being an NCAA tournament team last season. They would have had no shot to get back in the mix had Devan Downey and Dominique Archie decided to stay in the draft. They returned and South Carolina will certainly be in the mix in the suddenly rugged SEC East.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks couldn't afford to lose Michael Washington to the draft. Not if they were to have any shot at contending in the SEC West. Washington led the Razorbacks in scoring and now he'll return with point guard Courtney Fortson to give the Hogs a one-two punch capable of making some noise.
Illinois State: The Redbirds' chances of competing for the Missouri Valley Conference title were simple: If Osiris Eldridge returned, they would contend. If he didn't, they wouldn't. He did so and the Redbirds are instantly in play.
LSU: Tasmin Mitchell's decision to stay in Baton Rouge means the Tigers won't have a dramatic drop-off from the SEC's best to a middling team next season. Mitchell will pair with guard Bo Spencer to give the Tigers a contending team in the SEC West.
Miami: With a highly touted recruiting class coming in, Hurricanes coach Frank Haith was always a believer that his team could contend for an NCAA berth out of the ACC. But he needed a post presence. He got his top one back when Dwayne Collins returned.
BYU: The Cougars won a piece of the Mountain West regular-season title last season and firmly believe they will be right in the mix once again. They wouldn't have been had Jonathan Tavernari stayed in the draft. As expected, he didn't.
Binghamton: D.J. Rivera was the Bearcats' leading scorer and took them to the NCAA tournament. Any chance Binghamton had in repeating as America East champs relied on him to make a smart decision to return to school. He did.
Connecticut: Ater Majok was billed as a project, but a skilled one with a chance to pull off a Hasheem Thabeet-like development in two or three years. To do that, he had to go to UConn, not toil around the D-League. Majok made the wise decision to withdraw from the draft and become a potential player for the Huskies in the frontcourt. He needs work, but Jim Calhoun's staff has done wonders with developing big men like the aforementioned Thabeet and Hilton Armstrong.
Gonzaga: Austin Daye took his decision down to the final hours before ultimately saying goodbye to Spokane. Gonzaga can move ahead without him since the Zags are still offensively talented. But when Daye was on his game, he was one of the tougher matchups in the West.
Florida: The Gators could have been a real threat to win the SEC East had Nick Calathes returned to school. He did not. That won't help Florida's bid to return to the tournament for the first time since winning back-to-back national titles.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons scored a major coup when freshman Al-Farouq Aminu surprised NBA draft personnel and decided to stay in Winston-Salem from the start. The expected blow came when James Johnson declared without an intention of returning. But the shot to the gut came when Jeff Teague strung coach Dino Gaudio along for a month and then on Monday decided to stay in the draft. Wake still has plenty of talent to make a run at an NCAA bid, but being an elite team is out of the question.
Saint Mary's: The Gaels knew they were losing senior Daimon Simpson. And not having Patty Mills was a foregone conclusion when he was playing well earlier in the season. Once he broke his right hand in late January, though, there was always a chance he could come back to school. Mills returned for the West Coast tournament, but wasn't the same player. His indecision was enough to tease Randy Bennett and his staff into thinking the Gaels could be a player for the WCC title next season. But not now. Not without Mills.
UCLA: The Bruins still have plenty of players the rest of the Pac-10 would covet. What UCLA doesn't have next season is a star -- at least not yet. They would have had one if Jrue Holiday had decided against staying in the draft. But as the process unfolded in the spring, he was becoming a lock for the lottery. Holiday's departure takes away the Bruins' game-changing player. He's not a true point and hasn't been one, but he could go off the dribble and get to the basket.
USC: Taj Gibson apparently didn't embrace leaving until the final weekend. He actually considered returning to the Trojans, despite the turmoil of Tim Floyd's resignation, the ongoing NCAA investigation and the constant defections of the recruiting class. Gibson's decision Monday to leave is just the latest blow to a program that seems to be crumbling by the day.
Duke: The good news for the Blue Devils is that Kyle Singler never considered leaving. The bad news is that Gerald Henderson got word that he could be in the lottery. Duke is still a top-15 team, but not having Henderson (or for that matter, not getting John Wall) means the Blue Devils will lack a blow-by scorer. They will be bigger and more skilled, but missing Henderson's athleticism will hurt.
Memphis: New Tigers coach Josh Pastner was facing plenty of obstacles after a raid on the Tigers' recruiting class. Getting Shawn Taggart back for experience in the post would have done plenty to ease the transition. The Tigers will still be fine on the perimeter, where there are scorers and ball handlers, but inside is a whole different story. Big man Will Coleman arrives from the juco ranks, but there isn't much experience otherwise.
Xavier: The Musketeers are going through a transitional period. Had Derrick Brown come back to play for Chris Mack, the Musketeers would have had a potential player of the year in the Atlantic 10. But Brown had already graduated and the vibe was he could go in the first round. So he's gone and so too is XU's status as A-10 favorite. That now belongs to Dayton.
Texas A&M: The Aggies weren't expecting to lose Donald Sloan or Bryan Davis after they declared. But seeing Chinemelu Elonu stay in the draft Monday leaves a gaping hole in the middle for A&M. They were already losing shooter Josh Carter. Now the Ags have to find another shooter and a big on the roster for next season.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.