SEC Underclassmen Were Oversold

Late last Tuesday night, the rarest of television rarities occurred. For the first and probably last time, Dick Vitale – of all people – was the voice of reason.

As the 2005 NBA draft turned into the Southeastern Conference's worst nightmare, Dickie V opened up his piehole and – surprise! – something that actually made sense came out.

"What are they thinking?" Vitale said, referring to undrafted college underclassmen like Alabama's Kennedy Winston, Florida's Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, Kentucky's Randolph Morris and Kelenna Azubuike and Arkansas' Olu Famutimi, among others.

"Who were these people listening to? They should have stayed in college. Now they're going to be basketball vagabonds."

Oddly enough, I agreed with him.

Of the seven SEC players who declared for and stayed in the draft, six went undrafted. The lucky seventh – if you can call him that – was LSU sophomore and reigning league MVP Brandon Bass, who landed in the second round without a guaranteed contract.

In the span of four hours, the SEC's underclassmen went from powerful men in waiting to pariahs.

In the process, the league they left behind stayed firmly in neutral behind college hoops' powerbrokers for at least another season.

Imagine Alabama with Winston taking the floor alongside Ronald Steele, Jermareo Davidson (who emerged as one of the summer's wisest men by pulling out of the draft), Richard Hendrix and Chuck Davis.

Or Kentucky – a double-overtime loss away from the Final Four – with Morris and Azubuike in tow.

Or Florida, which finished the season as one of the nation's hottest teams, with Roberson and Walsh in Billy Donovan's high-powered attack.

Now the Tide, minus Winston and graduated shooting guard Earnest Shelton, has some serious offensive questions to answer.

Florida has major rebuilding ahead.

And Kentucky wonders what might have been while Tubby Smith continues under the usual immense pressure to win – now. It's sad, really.

Winston – who latched on with the Memphis Grizzlies' summer-league team – talked proudly before the draft of his new truck, and buying his mother a home somewhere safer than Prichard, a poor area of Mobile.

Now, where does that money come from?

Does the truck go back to the dealership?

Thinking about the thoughts going through the head of Winston, a proud, friendly but tough young man, make you cringe.

You feel bad for him, and those like him who listened to the wrong person tell them the wrong things.

You wonder just who got in these players' ears – I mean, really.

Olu Famutimi as a first-rounder?

Come on. You're kidding, right?

The decisions some of these players made were mighty questionable.

Would any sensible agent have told Winston to avoid a physical at the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago, knowing that his client had undergone two previous surgeries on his left knee?

Had Winston participated in the physical – and the camp – he could have validated his status as a late first-round pick. Instead, he took his physical privately. That gave teams a reason to doubt him.

And in highly-charged moments like draft night, one doubt is all a team needs to pass a player out of the first round – or out of the draft.

Azubuike's situation is understandable – his father was just sent to federal prison. But the rest of his SEC cohorts have no excuses for their decisions. They just got horrible advice. At times last season, Randolph wasn't even one of the 10 best big men in the SEC.

Famutimi was a role player, albeit an athletic one, on a bad Arkansas team that quit down the stretch on Stan Heath. And while Roberson and Walsh are talented players, no mock drafts had them even sniffing the first round.

Makes you wonder what their agents were sniffing when they talked them into keeping their names in the draft, doesn't it? Some of them, maybe all of them, will succeed eventually, with hard work and a little bit of luck.

Chances are they'll make the NBA, but through the back doors like the NBDL or overseas leagues in Europe, Israel, Turkey or Russia.

Right now, they've screwed up their futures – and the futures of those they've left behind.

While they struggle scraping out a pro hoops living this winter, they'll wonder what could have been.

When March Madness rolls around, so will their former SEC teammates.

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


BamaMag Top Stories