Entering draft, staying senior season never easy choice

Enter the draft? Stay in school? Never an easy decision to make at any school, including OU.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is the talk of the sports world following his 46-point performance in the Sooners 109-106 3 OT loss at Kansas on Monday night in a battle of two No. 1-ranked teams.

That only happened because of a decision back in the spring when Hield, who realistically could have tested the NBA Draft waters, decided to stay in Norman for his senior season.

Instead of being a late first-round, or second-round pick, Hield came back to refine his game. The No. 1 thing opposing coaches have said about Hield this season is true. Last year he was a shooter. This year he’s a basketball player.

And perhaps the best one in the entire nation. Hield is averaging 26.3 points per game and more than five rebounds per contest.

He’s looked solid-to-spectacular in OU’s 12 wins, but is now going to be remembered for that epic outing at The Phog on Monday.

Where would Hield be if he had chosen to leave Norman? Not sure. Conversely, the OU football team is going to be without two key pieces to the puzzle when the 2016 season rolls around.

Following a 37-17 loss to No. 1-ranked Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl, cornerback Zack Sanchez announced his intention to leave early one day, while linebacker Dominique Alexander did the same the following afternoon.

Was this the right move for either one of them will be a question debated until the combine, then to pro day and then to the Draft itself. Of the 84 players who declared early last year, 41 of them were either drafted in the third day or not drafted at all.

So essentially 50 percent reached for that brass ring but came up a bit short with no option to go back to college.

Sanchez seemed like a shoo-in to enter the draft before the 2015 season. Seven more interceptions this season show why it makes sense for him to jump now until you factor in a couple of things.

An ankle injury made Sanchez miss essentially three full games, and he clearly wasn’t the same for OU’s final three games in the regular season. The 2016 season either could have seen him fully healthy or perhaps just as banged up, but he wasn’t 100 percent in 2015.

Then another year with defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks no doubt would have done Sanchez a lot of good going forward. Despite the fact Cooks was one of the first to publicly congratulate Sanchez on his decision on Twitter, you know year No. 2 with Cooks would have been a banner one for all parties involved.

Sanchez told NewsOK part of the reason he felt comfortable in leaving was because of the stellar play of sophomore Jordan Thomas this season. He answered the questions this season, switching the issue from Sanchez and who to now Thomas and who going forward.

If Sanchez was quasi-expected, nothing could be further from the truth regarding Alexander. Coming off back-to-back 100-tackle seasons at OU, Alexander was looked to be the leader of the 2016 defense, on the field and with the media and in the locker room.

Alexander became a father in the last year, and it’s true that has changed his perspective on life. Bob Stoops said he believes Alexander could have improved his position, but he understands how everybody’s situation is different.

An undersized middle linebacker throughout his time in Norman, it’s going to be incredibly interesting to see where Alexander falls in the grand scheme of things. He’s talented, for sure, and certainly believes in himself.

Decisions to leave early can work out (Jordan Phillips, Kenny Stills). Decisions to leave can be head-scratchers (Tom Wort). Decisions to stay can work out (Aaron Colvin). It’s all based on the player as Tony Jefferson continues to show every game with the Arizona Cardinals after being undrafted.

It’s not an easy decision to make. And there is no hindsight or second chance. Hield made his call, and it’s paid off in spades and most likely dollars when the NBA Draft rolls around. Will the same be said about Alexander and Sanchez?

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