Hendrix Decision Should Be Easy

Over the next 90 days, Richard Hendrix will make a decision that could change his life forever.

The Athens High School star and Alabama basketball signee has a special decision in front of him. Does the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward and Alabama's Mr. Basketball enter the NBA draft, where potential millions await him or does he come to Tuscaloosa, learn from Mark Gottfried's staff and play college ball for at least one or two years, with hopes of improving his professional stock immeasurably?

Tough choice.

Or is it?

Peruse the various NBA draft projection sites on the information highway, and Hendrix isn't even a blip. Not even in the second round.

So should his decision really be that tough? Probably not.

Hendrix is a bright young man, with strong guidance. But jumping to the NBA – right now – would be a poor decision for a young man with such a bright future.

I've seen Hendrix play twice – once in person at the Alabama state finals and on ESPN's telecast of the McDonald's High School All-Star game – and am firmly convinced he'd be better off coming to Tuscaloosa and improving his game for several years before he thinks about going pro.

He is a strong rebounder. An athletic presence who can block shots, set up teammates with pinpoint passes and make the occasional steal. And he has good range – out to 15 feet consistently.

Hendrix will be an instant contributor in college, probably starting as a sixth man behind senior forward Chuck Davis and junior center Jermareo Davidson, unless Gottfried plugs him in as the starting small forward, going with senior Jean Felix at shooting guard and sophomore Ronald Steele at point guard.

Either way, he'll make a big impact.

The same can't be said if he decides to go pro. First-round picks – which Hendrix has no guarantee of being at this point – get three-year guaranteed contracts, but save the odd LeBron James or Amare Stoudamire, virtually all high schoolers serve that first contract as a glorified intern, seeing time only late in blowouts while trying to improve their games in practice and their bodies in the weight room.

And being a high pick hardly guarantees success. For every Kobe Bryant, there's a Kwame Brown, the No.1 pick in 2002 who has yet to fulfill his huge potential with the Washington Wizards.

The NBA is one of the least nurturing environments an 18-year old can possibly experience. Those who don't believe so should read "When Nothing Else Matters: The Story of Michael Jordan's Last Comeback," author Michael Leahy's fine behind-the-scenes look at Jordan's last two pro seasons with the Wizards.

Brown, who Jordan picked No.1 overall during his ill-fated executive run, is one of the book's main supporting characters. Jordan, the team's dominant force, repeatedly tears apart the young big man's psyche and skills and leaves them in a smoldering heap instead of piecing them together again.

Brown has yet to recover, and he's one of the lucky ones. At least he has a guaranteed roster spot and millions of dollars.

He could be James Lang.

Lang, a talented center from Birmingham's Central Park Christian School, made the jump two summers ago, spurning offers from Alabama and UAB, among others, for a shot at the NBA.

But he slipped to the second round, and was picked by the New Orleans Hornets. A disappointing training camp and some chronic back pain later, Lang's NBA shot was over. He's spent the last two years bouncing around basketball's minor leagues, chasing a dream that might have passed him by.

Hendrix still has time to make the right choice. He plans on participating in several all-star games, including the McDonald's game and the Hoop Summit (which pits American prospects against international prospects).

If Wednesday night was any indication, his decision shouldn't be that tough.

While Hendrix flashed some solid skills (particularly on the boards) in scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds, he was overshadowed by more polished products like Duke-bound forward Josh McRoberts and guard Gerald Green, an Oklahoma State signee who scored 22 points and looked like the best prep prospect in this year's draft.

Admittedly, it's tough judging a big man's offensive prowess in a game like the McDonald's, where the only opportunities to score come from 15 feet and beyond, thanks to the jack-it-up mentality of the young guards and lack of set plays for the forwards.

But Hendrix looked less active than most of the big men on the floor, including teammates McRoberts and UConn signee Andrew Bynum.

Right now, he doesn't appear to have the one-on-one offensive skills to thrive in the professional game, a problem that could be rectified with several years of teaching in college.

Hendrix and his father/coach, Venard, will take their time making their decision, and they should. It's their right, and someone of his prodigious talent has earned the opportunity to explore his future to the fullest.

Plenty can change in a month's time – a good workout here or there, a solid performance or back-room guarantee, and Hendrix could easily go pro.

But right now, his choice – Alabama or the draft – should be a slam-dunk.

Whether Hendrix really wants to come to college remains to be seen.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com

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