When Stanford redshirt junior point guard Chris Hernandez threw his name into the NBA Draft back in early April, fans of the Cardinal and all around college basketball did not quite know what to think. Though a number of underclassmen had yet to declare at that time, it was forecast that the 2005 draft would be one of the most talented for point guards in several years. NBADraft.net currently has three point guards slotted in the first seven overall picks for the June 28 draft, with 10 projected total to go in the two rounds of selections. ESPN.com has their ranking of the 10 best point guards in this draft, and Hernandez is nowhere to be found.
But there was not much harm in the Cardinal floor general throwing his hat into the ring. NCAA rules permit an enrolled collegiate student-athlete to once declare for the NBA Draft and still retain their college eligibility, provided that individual follows all related rules regarding expenses, locations and academic calendars. Hernandez is at the end of his fourth year at Stanford, though with his twice-broken foot in the 2002-03 season, the guard took a medical redshirt and still has a fifth year available to him to play college basketball. Next spring, he will be finished with his college eligibility and at that time have to move to the professional ranks to continue playing basketball, so this spring was his last chance to "test the waters" under the NCAA's rules.
In fact, it has become rather vogue for college basketball underclassmen with any modicum of talent to float their name into the draft, even if they have no pressing financial need and by all accounts are not yet prepared to make the jump to the NBA. Hernandez has taken summer school classes at Stanford two out of the last three years (2002 and 2004), which coupled with his other coursework has him ready to graduate with his bachelor's degree while conducting all the training and workouts this spring to prepare him for the draft.
"Originally when I took summer school, I wasn't anticipating that I would be putting my name in the draft," he comments. "I just wanted to be ahead. I wanted to have a lot of options. Getting my courses in order meant at least I would be on track, and maybe I could start my master's early."
Hernandez has applied and been accepted for a master's degree program next year at Stanford in sociology, which is one sign that he put his name into the draft with one foot still firmly grounded at The Farm. After two straight seasons of All Pac-10 play and a variety of experiences and lessons, the fourth-year guard saw and grabbed a window of opportunity.
"It's tough to say, really. I don't think there was ever a point where I told myself, 'You are ready.' This is something a basketball player has to look at," Hernandez explains. "The [2003-04] season I had told me something, but you're not sure until you get there. I self-consciously told myself that I could do this. I could play pro basketball. I didn't know if I was one year away or two years away, but I was confident that I could do this. Even during this year, I wasn't sure. At the end, I sat down and looked at my options. Then, it was like, 'Why not? What is the downside?'"
"I'm just a person very big into having options, so that I can weigh those," he adds. "They give me more leverage, so I can see what I want to do with my life. I don't want to be in a position without options."
Those NCAA rules which allowed him this chance to increase his options for 2005-06 basketball - college or pro - also have limited Hernandez in his endeavors. A student-athlete needs to remain enrolled in the spring to maintain their eligibility for the fall, but a currently enrolled student participating in the draft process cannot attend workouts at an NBA facility or run by NBA personnel. That pulls the rug right out from under somebody like Hernandez, whose school is starting spring quarter final exams tomorrow. Hernandez, however, put himself in a somewhat improved position with his foresight and planning. All of those classes he took in the prior three-plus years allowed him to take just a final few courses this spring quarter, which he was able to conclude in late May. That allowed him to work out with the Golden State Warriors last week and the Sacramento Kings this week.
"When that first came to my attention," Hernandez says of the rules governing his workouts, "I was a little frustrated. But it was just a little setback, as far as being able to be seen. I try not to dwell on these things, though. The more I think about it, the more it disrupts my focus."
That last statement has been Hernandez' credo this spring. While observers have had countless questions to ask, he has tried to stay out of the media spotlight and instead focus on his craft. He also has not had answers to many of those questions, including "how high" he would need to be projected to want to stay in the draft.
"I never really decided upon a criteria," he admits. "It just depends on where I am in my life. Am I ready to go on to life after Stanford? I haven't figured out yet if I want another year of college or not."
That statement might startle at first glance, but Hernandez has gone through his four years of college. Further consider the added context of who else will no longer be on The Farm next fall. Hernandez came to Stanford in a class with Josh Childress and Rob Little, and the trio was as tight as any class we have seen in recent years. They roomed together and did everything together. Childress jumped to the NBA last year and enjoyed an All-Rookie Team debut in the Association, averaging the sixth most points scored among all rookies. Little has concluded his fourth and final year of eligibility and will graduate next week. Suddenly, they're all gone.
"This process is just me in my life is a young adult. It's a very confusing time, especially since a lot of my peers and classmates are moving on and know what they are doing," Hernandez allows. "In a person's life, there is a course when you find the time to move on."
Though projected at best as a late second round selection, which if materialized would not give him a guaranteed contract, there are factors Hernandez has had to consider that would justify making this jump. The confusion grows as there is a pro and con to every layer of those complexities.
"I'm trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and it brings up too many questions," he laments. "There have been people who say I could improve myself and be even stronger for next year's draft, but there have been people who have said to me, 'If you come back next year, you could be in the same position.' I hear everything."
While most players with remaining eligibility set a threshold of a first round selection for their stay/go decision, Hernandez may never play his way into the top 30 selections of the NBA Draft. His decision has instead surrounded whether the time to start his professional life is now or next year.
"It is better to take a chance sooner than later, if your chance will not be better later," he opines. "I don't want to look back at a missed opportunity."
It remains unseen if Hernandez can raise his stock with another year at Stanford, but he currently lacks the juice to put himself in a reasonable position for the June 28 draft. Next week is the all-important pre-draft camp at Chicago, which is by select invitation only. With a wealth of underclassmen and foreign players thrusting themselves into this year's draft, there are far more bodies than spaces available at the Moody Bible Institute (June 7-10). Hernandez looks like he will be one of the odd men out, which may signal the beginning of the end of this year's draft preparations for him.
"Chicago is out of my control. I put my name out there as eligible. Coaches and GMs get a list and decide if they want you to go or not," the Stanford guard details. "If I don't get to go to Chicago? Then that will probably end it for me, if there is not enough interest from enough teams."
Absent next week's camp, Hernandez has little upon which he could spring himself into the draft. He has until June 21 to withdraw his name, but unless more clubs pick up the pace and bring him in for workouts, he could announce his return to Stanford sooner. It would be a disappointment on one level for Hernandez, but a celebrated event for the continuation of his Cardinal career. His return would also be the first time a Stanford player has declared for the draft and not gone forward. Jason Collins, Curtis Borchardt, Casey Jacobsen and Josh Childress all previously have tested the waters and then taken the plunge with first round selections before completing their college eligibility.
One wild card might be the Warriors, who are of course led by head coach Mike Montgomery, the same man who recruited Hernandez to Stanford and mentored him for three years on The Farm. The Warriors have two picks in the second round, and though their primary need for their first round selection comes in the post, they could take a chance on a point guard with one of their later picks. However, those second round picks are in the top half of the round, at #40 and #42, and by a value analysis would probably not be judged appropriate for Hernandez' stock. Montgomery has a soft spot for Hernandez, and the two worked together for that standout 2003-04 season. However, we are hearing that Montgomery did not deliver specific or encouraging feedback to Hernandez after last week's workout. And if Montgomery is not rolling out the red carpet for his former player, it is difficult to imagine one of the other 29 NBA clubs doing so.
We are at most a few weeks away from the news of Hernandez' declaration - either to return to Stanford or to proceed with his professional basketball career. Without a ticket punched to Chicago, we might hear as soon as the next few days. But rest assured that at the end of this process, Chris Hernandez has done as much soul searching as he has taken jump shots. He has worked this spring on finding himself - where and who he wants to be. And that path trumps the calculus and draft boards we have presumed to rule his fate.
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