New early-entry deadline isn't helping players

Published Apr. 9, 2012 6:46 p.m. EDT

Let's begin in this not-so hypothetical universe: John Q. Public is a Division I college basketball standout for his team. His skill set could use another year or two of developing under the tutelage of college coaches, but boy, everyone in his ear tells him how good he'll be as an NBA player. He should leave school early, they say, and strike while the iron is hot.

After producing an all-conference season, Public announces his intention to declare for the NBA draft in early April and is no longer part of the college basketball team. By mid-May, after finally being allowed to work out for individual NBA teams, he receives an honest assessment from professional personnel and a full heaping of humble pie.

At best, he's a second-round pick. He might not get drafted at all. And suddenly, Public wonders if maybe he isn't as good as he thought.

What to do now? It's too late. There is no turning back anymore.

A new NCAA rule gives players who entered the NBA draft until April 10 to withdraw their name from consideration and return to play in college. This comes despite the fact the NBA has its own deadline of April 29, when teams can begin contacting players and working them out individually. Players can wait until the April 29 deadline to enter the NBA draft provided that they haven't declared before April 10. But they can no longer work out for teams and then return to school.

If that sounds confusing, it is. In the past two years, players had until the second week in May to decide to return to college. That provided them with an opportunity to work out for NBA personnel and receive a fair evaluation of their talents. Before 2010, players could decide to return to school in June — 10 days before the NBA draft.

What gives with the new guidelines?

"Those rules are there to protect the universities, protect the coaches and help them so they don't become bankrupt all of a sudden in June," Weber State men's basketball coach Randy Rahe said. "Some major programs might have two to three guys leave in June. All of a sudden it's, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?' You can go from being really, really good to not very good in a hurry. It seems like the rules were put in place to protect the universities."

Rahe is among those coaches who will be losing an undergraduate player early to the NBA. Damian Lillard, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard from Weber State already has declared for the draft and is expected to be selected in the first half of the first round.

Rahe said Lillard's decision to leave early wasn't affected by the NCAA's new deadline because of the positive feedback he received from the NBA advisory committee.

"If we would have gotten information where he would have been a late first-round, second-round guy, it probably would have put more heat on the process," Rahe said.

The new rule isn't likely to hurt Lillard, but it does hurt players on the border of the first and second round because of the inability to receive in-person feedback from NBA personnel.

The idea behind the change, of course, is to prevent fringe players from declaring, though that has hardly stopped the early-entry train from rolling at a considerable pace.

It also is supposed to give coaches an opportunity to sign players in the spring for the following season and give them a clearer picture of the roster. The April 10 deadline mandated by the NCAA comes a day before the college basketball spring singing period. Programs can sign players to National Letters of Intent from April 11 to May 16.

Still, most programs have already signed their incoming recruiting classes, particularly top players capable of replacing the outgoing underclassmen. How much does it really hurt to let college players "test the waters" of the NBA for a brief period?

The list of underclassmen who have reportedly declared for the 2012 NBA draft looks something like this: Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Will Barton (Memphis), J'Covan Brown (Texas), Jared Cunningham (Oregon State), Justin Hamilton (LSU), Moe Harkless (St. John's), John Henson (North Carolina), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Perry Jones III (Baylor), Meyers Leonard (Illinois), Damian Lillard (Weber State), Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), Fab Melo (Syracuse), Khris Middleton (Texas A&M), Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State), Austin Rivers (Duke), Quincy Roberts (Grambling State), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Terrence Ross (Washington), Victor Rudd (South Florida), Renardo Sidney (Mississippi State), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Raymond Taylor (Florida Atlantic), Hollis Thompson (Georgetown), Dion Waiters (Syracuse), Maalik Wayns (Villanova), Royce White (Iowa State), Tony Wroten (Washington) and B.J. Young (Arkansas).


For those scoring at home, that makes 29 players who have announced their intention to leave school early to play in the NBA. And that doesn't even include players from the national championship team at Kentucky, which will almost certainly add a few more names to this list, or other players waiting until the NBA's April 29 deadline to officially declare.

Are all of those players going to be first-round draft choices? It's doubtful considering there are European pros, college seniors and only 30 first-round picks. Contracts for second-round picks are non-guaranteed, and an undrafted player likely will be relegated to the NBA Developmental League or worse.

Perhaps players would have a better grasp of their standing if given the opportunity to work out for pro teams. Instead, their standing often is based on an advisory committee comprised of NBA front office personnel more than two months away from the actual draft.

Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum, whose stock rose with a 30-point game in the NCAA tournament against Duke, declared for the NBA draft on March 27. But he did not hire an agent and withdrew on April 9, the day before the deadline.

Lehigh coach Brett Reed said McCollum's feedback from the advisory committee fluctuated from anywhere in the middle of the first round to the second round, making McCollum's decision even more difficult. That feedback also comes before every underclassman has officially declared for the draft, which could drastically alter each player's draft status.

"It was a wide range of slotting for him in the NBA draft," Reed said. "I also believe his ability to have performed in workouts would have ultimately helped him if people got to know him as a player more in detail. . . .

"I think it's a disadvantage situation under the current structure for the players that are looking at coming out. For as much as they value the feedback — and we're happy to get it — a lot of the NBA organizations don't know who's in the draft, who's not in the draft. There's not the opportunity for workouts and a little bit more detailed analysis of players. Because of that, it becomes a less exact science."

The old rule has shown a history of being quite beneficial for players. In 2008, for example, North Carolina's Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington all tested the waters of the NBA before deciding to return to school in June. The Tar Heels went on to win a national title the following season, and all three were selected in the next NBA draft.

In 2006, Villanova's Kyle Lowry waited almost until the last day to remain in the draft after working out for teams and realizing how much they coveted his talent. He was taken in the first round of the draft.

The next John Q. Public won't be granted the same opportunities. And the debate as to what is best for college basketball will rage on.

"From a player's standpoint, you'd like to have time to test the waters and get a proper evaluation," Rahe said. "From a coach's standpoint, you sure want to plan for that next season."

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