Bloomington, Ind. – D.J. White made a lot of Hoosier fans rest a little easier last night.
That's because the Hoosiers' 6-9, 251-pound junior announced he won't even toy with the idea of jumping to the NBA this off-season, bypassing the opportunity to gauge his NBA worth at a series of pre-draft camps leading up to the June Draft.
"I believe it is in my best interest to return for my senior season," White said in a prepared statement. "I learned a lot from Coach (Kelvin) Sampson and the rest of the coaching staff and really improved my game last year. I'm excited to take my game to another level and I look forward to a very successful season with my team."
His return was critical to an IU squad that appears, on paper, to be the most talented unit the Hoosiers have assembled in arguably 15 years, dating back to the Calbert Cheaney-led 1993 squad that spent much of the season ranked No.1 and advanced to the Elite Eight. White provides a dominant inside presence to complement the perimeter weaponry of Eric Gordon, A.J. Ratliff and Armon Bassett, among others.
Still, White's decision is a bit surprising. After all, he could have thrown his name into the mix, not hired an agent, and then opted to return to IU if he didn't think he was going to be a first-round selection.
Even his coach said he expected him to test the NBA waters last month.
"I think D.J. would be doing himself an injustice if he didn't at least find out where his value is," Sampson said soon after the 2006-07 season came to a close. "We've encouraged him to do that, and I think he will."
So what prompted White's decision?
There are a variety of possibilities.
Maybe White and/or Sampson talked to NBA personnel who advised him he needed another year of college seasoning. After coping with a steady stream of double teams this past season, the presence of Gordon will likely free him up for more one-on-one opportunities than he had a season ago. With the likely departure of Greg Oden to the NBA, White will be the league's most dominant big man.
Maybe the chance to play on a team with top-10 talent that figures to be a Big Ten title contender was the motivating factor. After going to the NIT as a freshman and then bowing out in the NCAA's second round last month, White might welcome the opportunity to shine on a much bigger and brighter stage this season.
Or, perhaps we should just take him at his word that the chance to earn his college degree from IU is the biggest reason of them all. It's a commendable – but admittedly uncommon – factor for most elite collegiate athletes these days.
All three are very reasonable explanations. But there's likely a fourth reason that plays a part in White's decision – a potential medical redshirt.
While White was listed as a junior this year and will be considered a senior next season, he still has the opportunity to return to IU to play basketball in 2008-09 as well. White played in only five games a year ago due to two separate incidents where he broke bones in his foot. While he meets all of the NCAA's criteria for receiving a medical redshirt, he can't officially apply for it until next summer.
With that in mind, his decision to keep put the NBA on hold makes more sense. Players are allowed to enter their name into the draft and then withdraw it only once. So if White had gone that route this year, he couldn't have done it again next season without fully committing to bolting from Bloomington.
That's likely why Sampson issued a statement yesterday that not only supported White, but on the surface appeared to contradict what he had said less than a month ago.
"I think he made a wise decision," Sampson said.
Whatever the reason or reasons behind White's decision, IU fans and his teammates are ready to welcome him with open arms.
And they'll all sleep a little bit easier knowing he's going to be back in the mix next season.
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