College stars put off NBA for school, draft stock
It wasn’t long after the NBA draft had finished in 2013 that the mock drafts came out for the following year, guesses made by anyone with a website and a stray thought about where the following year’s talent would be headed.
Predictably, super prospects Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were listed at the top. They were certain lottery picks, guaranteed to make millions as rookies in the league.
Further down the list, names such as Wayne Selden Jr. popped up – guys with loads of potential, but not such a sure thing. And while Selden would reveal glimpses of his talent during his freshman season at Kansas, his stock never did rise very much as the season progressed.
So, about the same time his teammate Wiggins was opting for the NBA after one season in Lawrence, Selden was making an equally tough decision: He would stay for at least one more year.
”We didn’t accomplish what we wanted,” he said. ”I wanted more.”
He’s referring to the way Kansas was ousted in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, of course, but also the way he played. Selden struggled with a nagging knee injury, only rarely showing what he was capable of. He thought another year in college could help his draft stock.
He wasn’t alone in making the difficult decision to stick around.
The Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, made the same choice after leading Kentucky within one win of a national title. So did teammate Dakari Johnson, Arizona small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis and LSU power forward Jarell Martin.
Each of them was a potential draft pick, and some of them may have even gone late in the first round, receiving the guaranteed contract that is not afforded to second-round picks. But they opted instead for one more season in college.
”You can’t really base your decision off what other people say,” said Andrew Harrison, who also wanted to play one more season alongside his brother. ”You just have to focus on what you think you can do and what you think is best for you and your family.”
The business of the decision certainly cannot be discounted.
When Wiggins went No. 1 overall in this year’s draft, the Canadian swingman received a rookie contract that could max out at about $24.8 million, with roughly $11.2 million the first two years guaranteed. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson received the last of the guaranteed deals as the final pick in the first round – a maximum of about $5.6 million and just $2.2 million guaranteed.
The first player taken in the second round, French prospect Damien Inglis, signed with the Bucks for just over $800,000 each of the next two years, with a third year unguaranteed.
In other words, every step up a player takes up the rookie wage scale pays off big.
”I’ve had players, I’ve said, `Do you really know what you’re doing? You know you’re probably going to go in the second round?”’ said Kentucky coach John Calipari. ”`I know you’re being told you’ll go in the first round. I’m telling you, you’re going to go in the second round, maybe. What if you don’t get drafted? Are you OK?”’
While no freshmen were taken after the first round in this year’s draft, seven of them were picked in the second round dating to 2010. Only two are still in the NBA, the others playing in its developmental league or foreign leagues ranging from Israel to Lebanon to China.
Calipari has become synonymous with the one-and-done movement, or as he puts it, ”succeed and proceed.” But he is actually among the many coaches who would prefer the rule be scrapped in the next round of collective bargaining; the current agreement expires in 2017. Calipari would prefer a two-year rule, or something similar to the rules in place in baseball, where prospects can turn pro out of high school but must remain in school for three years if they take that route.
New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in April that he was also in favor of a two-year limit, and that such a threshold would also contribute to a better professional product.
Besides, Calipari said, many players already know they aren’t ready for the NBA.
”Willie Cauley, after the championship the next morning, we meet, and I congratulate him and tell him, `Hey, man, you’re in the top 15. I’m happy for you. Good luck.’ The next day he comes in and says, `Coach, I’m staying,”’ Calipari said. ”I go, `What? Tell me why.’ `I’m not ready to have an impact in that league and I know that. I’m going to be able to get my degree and I haven’t won a championship and I want to win a championship.’ Good reasons, so he comes back.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller tries to supply all of the information he can to prospects weighing the stay-or-go decision, but he ultimately leaves it in the hands of players and their families.
Still, he quickly points to Derrick Williams – a fringe draft prospect after his freshman season – as evidence that sticking around for another year isn’t such a bad thing.
”If someone would have told me that Derrick would have been the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft as a sophomore, I mean, you would have bet the house that wouldn’t have been the case,” Miller said. ”It’s so difficult to predict something that’s so hard to do. Russell Westbrook, those who followed his high school career, who would’ve ever thought he would have become the player he is so quickly? Once in a while, the contrary happens. I think we all try to do the best that we can.”