So Far, Florida And Duke Big Draft "Winners"

The deadline for college underclassmen to enter their names into the NBA Draft pool is Saturday night. But Florida and Duke appear to have kept their best underclassmen from taking the NBA "plunge" for at least another year.

We'll wait until we see a definitive list of who has slapped their names onto the early-entry list before we break down in depth the "winners" and "losers" among college programs after the first stage of the underclassmen-to-the-NBA Draft process.

 

A couple of days before the deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the draft, the two biggest "winners" are quite obvious, however.

 

*National champion Florida. Just days after the Gators knocked off UCLA in the April 3 national championship game in Indianapolis, the program's underclassmen told a celebratory gathering on campus in Gainesville that they would return to take a pop at a second consecutive national title.

 

Barring a last-minute change of plans, Coach Billy Donovan will welcome back the best starting lineup in the country. And that will include the likely consensus preseason Player of the Year in 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah.

 

Noah seems determined to say "No!" to the opportunity of being the first player selected in the June 28 NBA Draft.

 

That's what I'd call having that old college spirit!

 

*Duke. The loss of seniors J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams cost the program the national Player of the Year (Redick) and two first-team All-Americas.

 

What would a decision by freshman Josh McRoberts to forfeit his final three seasons of eligibility have meant for Coach Mike Krzyzewski's program?

 

There was a strong probability it could have helped keep the Blue Devils out of the NCAA Tournament next March for the first time since 1995.

 

His presence in a Duke uniform as sophomore, with logical improvement, should help make the Blue Devils North Carolina's most serious challenger for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

 

And look for the 6-10 left-hander to not only challenge UNC's Tyler Hansbrough for ACC Player of the Year honors, but to play himself into position be in a cluster of players, including Hansbrough, Glen Davis of LSU and Greg Oden of Ohio State, that will also be in the hunt, with Noah, for national Player of the Year consideration.

 

No one can second-guess McRoberts' desire to play for Duke, either.

 

After all, as a senior at Carmel High in Indiana last year, he turned the opportunity to enter the draft – even with the knowledge that he would almost certainly been a lottery selection.

 

This time around, he might have been among the first five selections and certainly wouldn't have lasted beyond the seventh or eighth pick.

 

BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY:

*The best of the unsigned players in the high school class of 2006, McDonald's All-America forwards Lance Thomas and Darrell Arthur, seem set to finally make college decisions soon – I think.

 

Thomas (Newark, NJ, St. Benedict Prep) has scheduled an on-campus press conference for May 4 to announce his decision, believed to be between Duke and Rutgers.

 

If it's Duke, he helps push the Blue Devils back to preseason Top 10 status and almost certainly would be a starter.

 

If it's Rutgers, new coach Fred Hill will have pulled off a major coup before he'd ever coached his first game, and Thomas would have the opportunity to help get the program into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

 

Arthur (Dallas South Oak Cliff) is expected to visit LSU this weekend and the Tigers – not even a player in the Arthur Sweepstakes before Tyrus Thomas announced he was turning pro – could end up with his signature on a national letter of intent.

 

If he in fact does inherit Thomas' spot in the Tigers' starting lineup next season, LSU will make another run at a Southeastern Conference championship and a Final Four berth.

 

He doesn't play with the consistent level of energy that Thomas did at LSU and isn't the same kind of shot blocker. But he has much better offensive skills than the guy who is expected to go somewhere among the top five choices in the June 28 NBA Draft.

 

*As expected, junior combo guard Ron Brewer of Arkansas, sophomore point guard Kyle Lowry of Villanova and junior center Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh announced Thursday that they are entering the draft pool "without signing with agents".

 

The assumption here is that Brewer will be long gone, once it becomes apparent enough that he's a likely fringe-top 10 to mid-first round selection if he keeps his name in the pool.

 

Lowry and Gray would be right on the edge of the first round if they remain in the draft for the duration but both would help their stock considerably by returning for another season of college.

 

If Lowry's jump shot were reliable (from mid-range and beyond), he'd have an exceptional chance to be the second player picked at his position on June 28 (after Marcus Williams of Connecticut).

 

Gray still lacks the explosion, stamina and strength to compete on the NBA level, although his size, soft hands and solid passing ability could intrigue several teams enough to consider picking him near the bottom of the first round.

 

If he returns for his senior season and makes anything like the progress he demonstrated from his sophomore to junior seasons, he'd be a very solid lottery possibility in 2007.

 

The decision by Marcus Williams (the Arizona version) Thursday to return for his sophomore season was a mild surprise.

 

The 6-7 swingman had an exceptional freshman season but his stock with NBA talent evaluators isn't nearly as high as some analysts on other websites (who projected him from late lottery to early 20s status) believe.

 

He's almost all right-handed right now, needs a great deal of work on his passing and defense, and isn't nearly as quick as some believe.

 

But, with another spring, summer and season with the Wildcats to work on all of those aspects of his game, Williams is a possible Pac 10 Player of the Year as a sophomore and could work his way into the 2007 lottery.

 

*North Carolina State, after supposedly discussing the position (to various degrees) with John Beilein of West Virginia and former UCLA coach and current television commentator Steve Lavin over the past week, still hasn't found a replacement for Herb Sendek.

 

The Wolfpack should give strong consideration to Dereck Whittenburg (Fordham).

 

He's got plenty going for him: He's a graduate of the school, has done a solid job at both Fordham and at his previous head-coaching stop (Wagner College), is a proven successful recruiter and he's a cool guy.

 

He's not yet the caliber of coach that Sendek is. But it should be apparent that the school isn't going to be able to hire anyone who is.

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Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com



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