A year ago at this time, then-sophomore Josh Childress was exploding onto the West Coast and national basketball scenes. With Justin Davis out with a knee injury, Childress was leading the team and eventually the conference in rebounding - the first ever small forward to achieve that feat in a complete Pac-10 season. The 6'8" explosive Stanford athlete was growing into his offensive game as well, slashing the the basket and showing that he could score from all points on the floor. The exuberance experienced by Cardinalmaniacs™ at that time was mixed with more than a little fear:
Our time with Josh Childress is limited. We won't get four years.
When I spoke with the SoCal superstar last spring after that superb sophomore season, he told me that he would know that he is ready to make the jump to the NBA if and when he could take over any ballgame. So the big question is, where does he stand in his thinking today?
"Right now, I think I'll be back," the electric Q-Tip responds. "It's just things I hear from insiders that make me think it's the best thing for me to do."
Each year you see a hardworking player like Childress improve noticeable facets of his game, rising to higher levels in each successive season. But for this Stanford superstar, his junior season has been split between injury and the rehab/return from it.
"Being out helped me with some things," the combo forward begins. "But it also has hurt. My timing hasn't been there with a lot of things, and I'm just now starting to get my wind in games."
Missing a full six weeks of practices and games is a huge hurdle for any player to come back from, particularly when you cannot jog or run to keep up your conditioning. At a point in the season when Childress expected to be fine-tuning his game and pushing himself beyond expectations, the 6'8" athlete has been feeling his way back into this team. It's easy to forget that the junior has only started six games this year, in fact.
"There are just a lot of things for me to work on," he Childress allows. "Passing, point of attack - everything."
So the future pro star is not where he would like to be today, and both internally and externally he hears what he needs to improve to get himself where he knows he should be at this stage in his development. Does that mean it is a slam dunk for him to return for his senior season? Not exactly.
College players are allowed to declare for the NBA once during their eligible careers to "test the waters" and still pull back for a return to their undergraduate homes. For the fab freshmen and super sophomores around the nation, it is a tough decision as to whether they declare so young, given that they would never again have such a flexible opportunity. But for college juniors who have not yet made an NBA declaration, the choice has negligible risk, so long as they are careful to pay their way to all camps and do not retain the services of an agent.
"Why not?" Childress says to testing the NBA waters this spring. "Even if I think I would be coming back, there isn't much that can hurt me from giving it a try."
While Stanford fans have to be excited that this all-world talent is leaning toward a return to The Farm for his senior season, it looks like we will have plenty to sweat this spring. There is no question how big Childress' potential is, and the NBA is all about drafting potential, so I don't think we will truly know how this concludes until perhaps May. That could make for a lot of ulcers around the Cardinal Nation, given how each previous Stanford NBA declaration has stuck in similar situations for this program. Fans held out hope for one more year from Jason Collins, Curtis Borchardt, or possibly even Casey Jacobsen. Childress has at least as high an upside as any of that talented trio, but keep in mind that this is one very different kid who defies the superstar stereotypes. This patient and personable kid just might surprise college basketball fans and analysts everywhere this spring. It wouldn't be the first time for him to prove the pundits and their predictions wrong.
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