James' decision boosts team's outlook

Updated: June 13, 2009, 4:10 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Texas junior wing Damion James couldn't get a guarantee that he'd be a first-round pick in this month's NBA draft. So he did what most NBA personnel have advised: He decided to go back to school to improve his chances for the 2010 draft.

James informed Texas coach Rick Barnes late Friday night that he would be returning for his senior season, according to a Texas spokesperson.

James canceled a workout that was scheduled for Saturday in New Jersey. The deadline to withdraw from the June 25 draft is 5 p.m. ET Monday.

"This process has been a great learning experience. I've been able to get a much better understanding of how the NBA works and what they are looking for from me. That will definitely help when I go through this process again next year," James said in a statement Saturday.

"I can't say 'thank you' enough to my family, my coaches, my teammates and those closest to me for their support and honesty through this process. I know they truly want what is best for me, and that means so much."

James was invited to the NBA draft combine in Chicago, but wasn't convincing enough there, or in individual team workouts, to make him a first-round pick.

James will be the top returning scorer for the Longhorns. He averaged 15.4 points a game last season behind outgoing senior guard A.J. Abrams (16.6 ppg). James' return should help Texas be a preseason top-10 pick and a favorite to nip at likely No. 1 Kansas in the race for the Big 12 title.

Texas returns guards Justin Mason, Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay to go along with James, and added the top position players in the ESPNU 100 in shooting guard Avery Bradley out of Findlay College Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and small forward Jordan Hamilton out of Dominguez (Calif.) High.

Small forward Shawn Williams (Duncanville High, Texas) and Florida transfer guard Jai Lucas are expected to make an impact as well. Lucas should compete for the starting point guard position.

Texas also returns its starting front line of Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson, two players who Barnes repeatedly has said could compete for All-Big 12 honors. Barnes fully expects them to have a banner season.

Barnes, never one to hide from hyping his team if deserved, has said Texas could be one of the better teams in the country. Getting James back to lead this crew certainly enhances his position.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com