SCOTT: Will SEC be raided by NBA?

When the North Carolina men's basketball team returned home to Chapel Hill to celebrate its 2005 national championship, the Tar Heels young stars got caught up in the euphoria surrounding their achievement.

Junior forward Sean May told the crowd "I can't wait to come back next year," and promised to convince his teammates to do the same. Three weeks later, May declared for NBA Draft, joining junior wing Rashad McCants, junior guard Raymond Felton and freshman forward Marvin Williams among the early departures entering the draft.


On Friday, during a similar celebration in Gainesville, the Florida men's basketball basked in the glory of their own celebration and then dropped a bomb on the crowd.


"We obviously had a lot of fun," sophomore center Al Horford told the crowd, teasing toward the possibility of an early departure. "We've done some great things here."


Then sophomore forward Joakim Noah interrupted him, saying, "Hold on, hold on. What do you guys want us to do? You want us to play here next year?"


As the crowd of more than 10,000 shouted, "two more years," Noah answered: "Well, let it be done then! We back, baby. We back."


Yeah, the sophomore trio of Noah, Horford and guard Corey Brewer are back alright, but for how long? How long will it be before agents and other devious types start whispering in the ears of these young men in an attempt to change their minds? Pro scouts are already suggesting Noah is a top-five pick, while Horford is a supposed mid-round first-round pick and Brewer is seen as a likely late first round or early second round choice.


That's not to criticize their decision or question their credibility. If coach Billy Donovan says they're great kids with all the best intentions, who are we to question their integrity?


"These are different kinds of kids," Donovan said. "I think it's all about them getting prepared to make the next step. Right now they're not prepared to do that. ... They want to someday play in the NBA and be impact players. It's really about becoming the best they can become as players. Some people may say, 'Strike when the iron is hot.' It's not about that with these guys."


Then what is it about?


With Noah, it's certainly about money. His father, Yannick, followed up a lucrative pro tennis career with another profitable career as a European reggae star. The Noah's aren't hurting for money, and by all accounts Noah is a well-traveled young man who enjoys and appreciates the college life and all that comes with it.


Ego, however, is a tremendous motivator, and the opportunity to be selected among the first five picks in the next NBA Draft can be quite an ego motivator for a young man surrounded by people telling him how wonderful he is.


While Noah can learn from his father's success, Horford can learn from his father's mistakes. Tito Horford played two seasons at Miami before jumping to the NBA. He spent only three seasons in the NBA before bouncing around in Europe and South America trying to sustain a career that fell short of the expectations that surrounded his talent. Tito Horford has told his son to be patient, work on his game and not make the same mistakes.


Brewer, however, has more difficult decisions to make. He's not rated as high as Noah or Horford but his father has diabetes and heart problems that prevent him working and getting around.


"Nine hours after we win, people want to talk about the future and I understand that," Donovan said. "I think we've got a different group of kids. I believe in my heart that all those guys will be back. I think they're having too much fun, they're enjoying playing together too much.


"The kids in our program could get a whole lot better, could improve, and I think another year in college for those guys - or two (years) - would prove to be valuable for them rather than someone getting a chance or an opportunity (in the NBA) and those guys sitting on the bench and not having a chance to develop."


Donovan doesn't have to look very far to find good examples for his players. Mike Miller and Donnell Harvey left early after the Gators lost in the 2000 championship game. They were both first-round picks but while Miller has been moderately successful Harvey has bounced around from team to team during a nondescript pro career.


Last year, the Gators lost guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh to early entry but neither player got drafted. Roberson sees only occasional playing time for Memphis while Walsh isn't even playing in the NBA.


Clearly, all four players could have benefited from more playing time and individual development in college. They also missed the joy that Noah, Horford and Brewer experienced in winning a national championship.


"I don't think anybody's ready to leave yet," junior forward Chris Richard said.


"Everybody loves each other, and we want to come back and try to repeat. We've proven that we're the best team in the country, and we'll be the best team again coming into next year. We have a great chance to repeat."


It remains to be seen if the lure of repeating remains more tempting than the chance to turn pro. Underclassmen have until April 29 to declare for the draft, and even then they don't have to sign with an agent. They can spend the next three months testing the water before jumping in or removing their name from consideration.




The SEC opened the 2005-06 season amidst low national expectations and still put six teams in the NCAA Tournament and two in the Final Four. Even South Carolina won the NIT for the second consecutive season, for what it's worth.


The SEC made considerable progress over the course of the season because so many of the conference's best young players, including Noah, Horford and Brewer, as well as LSU's Glen Davis and freshmen Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas, grew and developed exponentially over the course of the season.


If the majority of those players choose to return for the 2006-07 season, the SEC will enter the season with much higher expectations and possibilities.


It is ironic, then, that the sophomore who probably made the least amount of progress in 2005-06 will not be back for the 2006-07 season. Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo is giving up his remaining college eligibility to enter the NBA draft and he's not just testing the water. Rondo said he intends to hire an agent and has no plans to return.


Rondo led Kentucky in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season, but he also led the Wildcats in inconsistency, maddening mistakes, missed opportunities and turnovers.


Watching Rondo gave one the impression that he never really learned how to bend himself to the will and good of the team and didn't really want to.


Yet, here he is, entering the NBA draft.


"I believe I can compete for a strong position in the first round," Rondo said. "I'm not afraid to do what is required to be one of the top point guards in the NBA, if given a chance."


So what does Kentucky coach Tubby Smith say about all this?


"Rajon is a young man," Smith said, "whose confidence about what he's capable of doing is second to none."


Now, that could be a construed as a vote of support for Rondo's decision, but it could also be construed as a criticism for unfounded confidence that often clouds Rondo's ability to make decisions on and off the court.


Or it's possible Smith is almost relieved to get rid of Rondo. It was easy to see that Rondo always had one eye on the road and another on the horizon, looking to leap at the first opportunity.


So where will that leap take Rondo? It's hard to say at this point. Rondo insists he's been told he will be the No. 1 point guard in the draft, but NBA teams have a longstanding habit of drafting bigger players before they turn their attention to point guard.


Mock drafts have him being selected as early as the 13th pick in the first round while others have him being picked in the second round. Rondo says his goal is to become a lottery pick, but he's got a lot of work to make that happen.


While Rondo seeks his fortune, Kentucky will let sophomores Ramel Bradley or Joe Crawford compete to replace Rondo at point guard.




All those warm fuzzy feelings that emerged at Ole Miss when new men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy decided to keep assistants Tracy Dildy and Michael White didn't last long.


Kennedy retained both Dildy and White from former coach Rod Barnes' staff but Dildy decided to resign last week. Apparently, the hurt feelings over not being seriously considered to replace Barnes was too much for Dildy.


"I talked to (Dildy) a little bit," Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone said. "I know that this has been a difficult year and I believe he wants to take a little time off. It's hard to know what he was feeling."


The Rebels also lost signee Solomon Bozeman, the son of former Ole Miss assistant and current Southern Arkansas coach Eric Bozeman. Bozeman signed with Barnes last November but decided he wanted to play elsewhere. Kennedy granted a release from the letter-of-intent and Bozeman will sign elsewhere.


"I've come to realize that you better be prepared for surprises," Kennedy said. "I knew with Tracy, at the end of the day, we have to do what we feel is in our best interest for ourselves and our family so I understand and respect that."


Bozeman might not be the last departure. Several players and recruits who were close to Dildy are also said to be looking at their options.


"They obviously felt very, very close affection for Coach Barnes," Kennedy said. "They're certainly very close to Coach Dildy. As our relationships evolve, we'll see how everything plays out. I understand completely the emotional spectrum that they're going through."




Last year at this time South Carolina men's basketball Dave Odom flirted with the Virginia job through indirect sources and was ultimately forced to issue a similar statement around when media reports revealed his interest. Some media reports even reported that Odom had reached an agreement in principle with Virginia before pulling out of the process.


This time around Odom's name has been connected with the vacant North Carolina State job. Once again, Odom's interest has been channeled through indirect sources and since become public, forcing Odom to issue yet another statement.


"I have not nor do I expect to have any contact with any other university about any coaching vacancy," Odom said in a prepared statement. "I have no interest in leaving the University of South Carolina. I am totally committed to focusing all of my attention and energies on the continued development of our team and program."


Despite winning the NIT twice Odom has fallen short of the national expectations that accompanied his arrival in 2001. If he returns, the pressure will be strong to reach the NCAA Tournament with a team led by point guard Tre Kelley and forwards Renaldo Balkman and Brandon Wallace.




Richard Scott is a Birmingham based author and sports writer and is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at

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