MEN'S HOOPS: NBA Draft Bypasses Walsh and Roberson

When you have passed up your senior year in college, a year in which you can only improve your chances to make it to the next level, and you go into the NBA draft only to have such household names as Roko Ukich, Mile Ilich, Marcin Gorat and Uros Slaka taken and you're left holding your hat, (1) you have made a serious mistake and (2) you need to hire good lawyers to sue whoever it was telling you to leave college early.

When the Memphis Grizzlies go after someone from France named Mickael Gelabale and the Atlanta Hawks, who are absolutely desperate for someone who can play basketball, choose Cynk Akyol from that hotbed of basketball talent, Turkey, and you didn't' get drafted, then it should be patently obvious that you screwed up. Big time!

So, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, while I love what you guys did the last three years at Florida and while you will always be Gators in my mind, I have to ask both of you point blank: What in the hell were you thinking?

I ask myself that question about the ex-wife all the time and my answer is it seemed like a good idea at the moment. The NBA may have seemed like a good idea for a moment or two for Walsh and Roberson, but at some point they needed to listen to Billy Donovan, the coach who knows him better than anyone else. Billy tried to make it in the NBA as a player and he coached in the NBA as an assistant. The Van Gundy brothers are his buddies. Rick Pitino is his mentor. All of them thought Walsh and Roberson should stay for their senior year at Florida.

David Lee flirted with the draft last year but he listened to his coach and the people Donovan asks for advice. They all said stay so Lee came back to Florida, re-tooled his game and proved he has the heart to go with all that physical ability. His reward is that he got drafted in the first round. Yeah, it's the last pick of the first round, but David Lee gets guaranteed money and a two-year contract. If he had gone out last year against Billy D's advice, he would have spent this year playing for Eastern Slobovia in Europe or for the Rapid City Thrillers in the CBA or some outpost like that.

By coming back for his senior year, David Lee earned his way into the draft and now he'll have a chance to play a few years. Once you get picked in the first round, you usually get four or five years to at least bounce around and prove your worth. Walsh and Roberson ignored good advice and instead of getting drafted, they'll be trying to catch on as free agents. You'll get better odds on Steve Spurrier going with the wishbone than Walsh or Roberson making it now.

Udonis Haslem made it through the free agent ranks, but even when he was ignored on draft day three years ago the scouts all admitted that he had an NBA game although questionable size (6-7) for a power forward. He proved in France for one year that his size isn't a liability and he's done it the last two years in Miami, so well in fact that he'll be getting a contract worth at least a million a year in the very near future.

Walsh and Roberson don't have NBA games. They have NBA shooting skills, but that's about it. These two guys are the poster children for players who listen to the hype of agents and lawyers instead of the people who actually know something about basketball.

I didn't think Roberson was anywhere near ready for the NBA. He's only 6-2, doesn't play lock down defense, and he is not inclined to pass the ball on a regular basis. He could have come back one more year and bought into the program that he has to look for the pass first and played his way into the draft after a stellar senior year.

I got caught up in some of these reports I was hearing that Walsh was a sleeper and moving up the draft charts. I thought he was going to go no worse than the first 40 picks. I ignored what I've seen the past three years. Yeah, he can shoot, but isn't anywhere close to NBA defense. Like Walsh, I should have paid closer attention to Billy Donovan.

Billy told me twice in the last six weeks that while he supported Walsh in chasing his dream to play in the NBA, he felt that he should come back for his senior year. If he told me that, then I know he told Walsh the same thing at least a couple hundred times.

Here's what's really sad about the poor choices that Walsh and Roberson have made. They could have come back for their senior years at Florida and the Gators could have been something really special. If you add Roberson and Walsh to the young talent that Billy has brought in for the second straight year, the Gators could have been an elite eight and possibly a final four team.

By playing on a team that has championship aspirations, scouts would have been able to measure intangible qualities such as heart, leadership and determination, things that could have substantially improved their draft stock. By showing that he is willing to give the ball up, Roberson could have proved he's a team guy who just happens to have a dynamite jumper. By getting stronger and working on the many weak areas of his game, Matt Walsh could have proven that he's willing to do whatever it takes to get his game better and to help his team.

But instead, they listened to the wrong folks and now they've paid an awful price. I wish them well and hope they both find a way to pursue their dreams, but if you're looking to watch them play pro basketball the next few years, better see if you can get good hotel accommodations in Ankara or Toulouse.

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Congratulations to former Gator Orien Greene, the ex-Gainesville High star who transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette after his sophomore year at Florida. Greene was the defensive player of the year in the Sun Belt Conference. He was selected by the Boston Celtics in the second round.

Greene has a very good chance to make the Celtics roster. He's an exceptional open court defender and the kind of player who can come off the bench to give quality minutes defensively although his jumper is still suspect. The upside of Greene is that he proved the last two years at ULL that he can manufacture points off his defense and running the floor on the fast break.

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High school players proved once again that there needs to be draft rules in basketball similar to those in baseball. Three high schoolers were taken in the first round with six taken in the second. Figure the three first rounders will be around in three years. It's doubtful that any of the six second rounders will do anything more than flounder around a few years in the NBDL, the CBA or possibly find a home overseas.

In the Major League Baseball draft, players don't have to apply for the draft. It's up to the team to do its homework and draft the best players, then sign them if they can. If a high school player is drafted but doesn't sign, he can go on to college. If he goes junior college, he can be drafted after his freshman and sophomore years. If he goes to a four-year school, he can't be drafted again until he's finished three years or is 21, whichever comes first.

I've talked to Billy Donovan about the baseball draft rules and he's said that he would favor such legislation. With this kind of system in place, college basketball coaches would know exactly how long they can work with kids which would help them plan their recruiting.

With these rules in place, a player like Louis Williams of South Gwinnett (GA) or Monta Ellis of Jackson (MS) would likely opt for college after being drafted in the second round Tuesday night. Williams was committed to Georgia. He dominates on the high school level but his game is nowhere near ready for the NBA. Ellis had committed to Mississippi State. He is a great shooter but a liability on defense and when he handles the ball. Both got bad advice to go into the draft, but now they will pay the severe price of beating the bushes unless a miracle of Moses proportions happens and they make an NBA team next year.

Walsh and Roberson would have had the option of coming back, too, if the rules were like those in baseball. It's unfortunate, however, that we won't see anything like that the next six years. The NBA has a new collective bargaining agreement with the players union in place and an age limit of 19 or one year removed from high school. It's mostly window dressing and though it will stop the flow of high school kids, those kids will now just go to college for one year and then enter the draft.


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