- Eamonn Brennan, College Basketball Reporter
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We're close. Oh, so close. Thanks to the NCAA's new May 8 draft deadline, the decisions of 34 draft-eligible early entrants will come sooner than ever this year. In two weeks, college coaches agonizing over stars' futures will be sated and the 2010-11 hoops picture will be clear.
In the meantime, we can evaluate the decisions of those players who have taken the agony out of the process by signing with an agent, making them ineligible to return to college next season. Those decisions range from the obvious and easy -- John Wall, Evan Turner -- to the shockingly ill-advised and questionable. Everyone wants to be in the NBA. Some players are ready. Some aren't. In that spirit, let's analyze some of the decisions of the agent-signed players on a scale those players won't have to worry about ever again: grades A-F.
A+ through A-: The "duh" group.
John Wall, Fr., G, Kentucky: Duh.
Evan Turner, Jr., G, Ohio State: Double duh. (If only every draft decision was this easy to analyze. Strap on your seatbelts, because this is where things get fun. And long.)
DeMarcus Cousins, Fr., F, Kentucky: Cousins isn't quite the slam dunk Wall and Turner are -- he could get better on the defensive end of the floor, and his occasional blow-ups on the court speak to the type of attitude some NBA general managers will be eager to avoid. But Cousins also got better as the season went along, and it's impossible to dispute his ability. As a freshman, he was already the strongest big man in the country in 2009-10, and his polish around the hoop -- along with his unparalleled rebounding ability -- should make him an impact pro.
Wesley Johnson, Jr., G/F, Syracuse: Johnson has much he could improve, too, especially as an on-ball defender. But after his breakout season at Syracuse, it would be foolish for the formerly unknown transfer from Iowa State to return to school. This time last year, few NBA scouts would have drafted Johnson near the first round. Now he's a likely top-five pick. The getting is good, and Johnson isn't wasting any time. Hard to argue with that.
Ed Davis, So., F, North Carolina: This might seem counterintuitive, seeing as Davis saw his productivity drop off a steep cliff in North Carolina's horrific 2009-10 season, but stick with me here: Davis is actually making a fantastic decision coming out in this year's draft. Here's why: NBA scouts have been in love with Davis since his arrival in Chapel Hill, and as a projected top-10 pick this season, those scouts apparently don't care that Davis often looked unprepared for big-time hoops in his sophomore year. If he stuck around for another year, Davis would risk exposing himself as even more unready than he already seems. Best to get out while the scouts are still swooning.
Al-Farouq Aminu, So., F, Wake Forest: Much like Davis, Aminu gets a spot in this category not because he seems ready for the NBA -- he's not -- but because he and his agents have recognized that NBA scouts are hopelessly in love with him. Why not leave now?
Greg Monroe, So., F, Georgetown: Monroe is another of the not-exactly-a-slam-dunk-but-still-really-good players in this draft, but he gets an A- just for agreeing, after much deliberation and a second-straight high-lottery projection, to come out of school and get his NBA career underway. It would have been borderline silly to see Monroe back for a third year. It was time.
B+ through B-: The "Respectable, If Not Exactly A Sure Thing" group.
Cole Aldrich, Jr., C, Kansas: Aldrich is a dominant interior defender and rebounder. He is not, however, an elite interior scorer -- he still needs work on his footing and his moves with his back to the basket. Another year of college basketball might serve him well in this regard. With Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry no longer at Kansas, Aldrich could get a chance to play college basketball in a situation where he wasn't a total afterthought on offense. Still, this isn't a bad decision; Aldrich can develop that game in the NBA.
Derrick Favors, Fr., F, Georgia Tech: Favors has an NBA-ready body, but that's about all that's ready, and it's a lot easier to get by with an NBA-ready body in college than it is in the NBA. Favors will have a lot of development to do in the next few years to justify his top-five projected draft spot.
Patrick Patterson, Jr., F, Kentucky: Patterson has been a lottery pick for much of his three-year Kentucky career, and his decision to come back in the midst of a John Calipari-induced talent influx paid off. Patterson debuted an even bigger, stronger body, which he used to dominate the post alongside Cousins, and his work on his inside-out game should make him even more attractive to NBA scouts.
James Anderson, Jr., G, Oklahoma State: Anderson's decision is pretty easy: He came from relative obscurity to have an All-America type season in Oklahoma State's backcourt, and while he has a few things he could work on -- creating his own perimeter shot, for one -- Anderson is as pure a shooting guard prospect as this draft has.
Hassan Whiteside, Fr., F, Marshall: Yes, Whiteside could use another year in school. He's still pretty raw. But his freshman campaign at Marshall was so impressive that he's gone from a total unknown to one of the more intriguing picks in the draft, and Whiteside is taking advantage of his skyrocketing stock.
Dominique Jones, Jr., G, South Florida: Jones finally got the attention his talent deserves this year, leading South Florida to the fringe of the NCAA tournament and becoming something of a household name in college hoops circles. That hype is probably as wide as it's going to get, and now's the time.
Solomon Alabi, So., C, Florida State: Some have questioned Alabi's decision to come out this early. Like Whiteside, he's still very raw. He needs to get stronger. He needs to learn how to play offensive basketball. But for a guy like Alabi to look at his draft stock and see that possible top-20 spot, well, it's pretty hard to tell him to work on that offensive game in college.
Elliot Williams, So., G, Memphis: Williams' college career will end up being a little shorter than either Duke fans or Memphis fans would have preferred, and it would be interesting to see what Williams could do with another year of college eligibility and a talented recruiting class arriving for Josh Pastner this fall. Williams' pro potential didn't dwindle in his swift transfer from Durham to Memphis; he's still a likely first-round pick. This isn't a great call, but it's not the worst.
Larry Sanders, Jr., F, VCU: Sanders' mid-major affiliation hasn't hurt his draft stock; he's a likely lottery to mid-first-round pick. Sanders is in definite need of offensive improvement, but at this point it's hard to see Sanders climb too far up the scouts' lists in a year's time.
Armon Johnson, Jr., G, Nevada: Johnson's main weakness is his jump shot, which is streaky and prone to poor shot selection. His athleticism more than makes up for it, though, and it's plausible to see a team's late first-round pick panning out quite nicely in a year or so.
C+ through C-: The "Bad Circumstances Breeds Questionable Decisions" group.
Willie Warren, So., G, Oklahoma: Warren should have come out last year. He was a likely lottery pick in last year's draft, but he instead gambled on returning to college be the star of Oklahoma's post-Blake Griffin year. That did not go well. When Warren was healthy, he spent much of the time feuding with coach Jeff Capel, and Warren wasn't healthy all that often. But Oklahoma's a mess and staying isn't exactly an option, either. Warren's stuck.
Luke Babbitt, So., F, Nevada: Babbitt is probably a little underrated as a mid-to-late first-round pick; he's an elite low-post scorer whose profile is low thanks to his far-flung college. Another dominant season could boost Babbitt's stock into the lottery.
Xavier Henry, Fr., G, Kansas: The Kansas guard is a pure scorer, but he struggled to adapt to the rigors of the college game for much of his freshman season. Another year at Kansas -- without shot-heavy Sherron Collins in the mix -- could push Henry's stock into the stratosphere. As it is, he's a solid first-round pick. But he could be so much more.
Gani Lawal, Jr., F, Georgia Tech: Lawal, like Favors, could use another year in school to refine his low-post game. He's nearly there, but with so many big men in this draft, Lawal's status as a late first-rounder would probably improve next season.
Craig Brackins, Jr., F, Iowa State: Brackins is another of the players who would have probably benefited from either coming out last year or waiting until 2011 -- he, like his fellow Cyclones, had a largely disappointing 2009-10. But Brackins' athleticism and interior knack should prove tempting for plenty of NBA scouts.
Mac Koshwal, Jr., F, DePaul: Yet another big man who could use more time developing and whose draft stock dipped after a disappointing, oft-injured season. But with DePaul's situation in flux after the firing of coach Jerry Wainwright, it's hard to fault Koshwal for trying to get into the league now.
Charles Garcia, Jr., F, Seattle: Thanks to big games, thundering dunks and ever-increasing buzz, Garcia started to become a well-known name throughout the 2009-10 campaign. That said, Garcia's talent and buzz aren't big enough to get out of that dreaded "second-round to undrafted" in this year's draft, and a dominant year at Seattle with all eyes on Garcia could have made his 2010-11 draft much more intriguing.
D+ through D-: The "Talented, But Not So Much" group.
Lance Stephenson, Fr., G, Cincinnati: Stephenson went to Cincinnati after an ugly recruiting period -- as lauded as his talent were the questions about his eligibility and attitude. He largely disappointed. It was the sort of year that not only revealed Stephenson wasn't ready for the NBA, it was the sort of year that brought his future potential into question. Stephenson needs more time. His nickname, "Born Ready," couldn't be any less relevant.
A.J. Ogilvy, Jr., C, Vanderbilt: Ogilvy needs another year. He has talent, but in a draft this loaded with big men, Ogilvy needs a more versatile offensive game to impress scouts, and he doesn't have it.
Manny Harris, Jr., G, Michigan: Harris' game is a poor man's version of your prototype NBA shooting guard -- he's 6-foot-5, lanky, athletic, can shoot the 3 and create his own shot, and he has all the tools to be successful. The problem is Harris' attitude and two disappointing seasons that have plummeted his draft stock into second round/undrafted territory. Harris is dissatisfied at Michigan, but this isn't the right time.
Eniel Polynice, Jr., G, Ole Miss: Polynice is a second round-to-undrafted guy at this point, and he will be lucky to get in the draft this year.
Sylven Landesberg, So., G, Virginia: Landesberg is already a very good player, but his academic issues and falling out with Virginia coach Tony Bennett have sped his decision to get in the draft by at least a year; Landesberg would undoubtedly be better off waiting until his talent is fully developed.
F+ through F-: The "Wow, Is This Is A Bad Decision" group.
Keith "Tiny" Gallon, Fr., F, Oklahoma: Gallon is a big body with a knack for rebounding, but no one who's seen him play would call him NBA-ready. Gallon's decision might have more to do with Oklahoma's issues -- including an internal investigation into money allegedly wired to Gallon's account from a financier in Florida -- than with his likelihood of sticking in the pros. Gallon probably can't stay at Oklahoma, even if he wanted to, but that doesn't make the decision any less terrible.
Derrick Caracter, Jr., F, UTEP: Caracter isn't ready. The formerly troubled Louisville big man experienced a renaissance at UTEP this season, rebuilding his once-promising career into something recognizable during UTEP's impressive C-USA regular-season title run. It was great to see. But it doesn't change the fact that Caracter, while skilled in the post, is undersized, a tad overweight, and unlikely to be drafted earlier than the late second round. He needs another year to rebuild his stock; a player with a history this volatile needs two years of renaissance to be all the way back.
Tommy Mason-Griffin, Fr., G, Oklahoma: Speaking of the Sooners. Mason-Griffin is similar to Gallon in that both players had nice freshman seasons, but neither player is anywhere near being ready for the NBA. Mason-Griffin is undersized and lacks the athleticism necessary to succeed at the point guard spot in the NBA. He simply needs more time.
Jahmar Young, Jr., G, New Mexico State: No one questions Young's talent, but after two battery charges -- one recent, one in 2007 -- Young needs another year to rehab his image, stay out of trouble, and convince NBA GMs he's not a problem child. As it is, he'll probably go undrafted.
Courtney Fortson, So., G, Arkansas: Fortson's decision is baffling. The guard can get to the rim with relative ease, but at 5-foot-11 and without a reliable outside shot, it's unlikely an NBA team will take a risk on him anywhere near the first round of the draft.
Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog.
Many players are still on the fence as to whether to enter the NBA draft or return to school. While we await their decisions, here's a rundown of those who have already signed with agents and forfeited their college eligibility.