The news first leaked this weekend via the Fresno Bee, with quotes from his father, but today Chris Hernandez officially notified Stanford that he has withdrawn from the 2005 NBA Draft and will return to The Farm for his fifth year. Hernandez has reportedly faxed the official withdrawal letter to the NBA offices, before tomorrow's deadline for underclassmen to pull out of the draft. The draft will take place next Tuesday, June 28.
"I'm happy to be returning to Stanford to play my senior year and get my masters degree in sociology," Hernnadez offers. "This spring was a great learning experience, and I'm hoping the improvements I made will carry over into next season. I want to thank my coaches and teammates for their support during this time."
The 6'2" Cardinal point guard is coming back after back-to-back First Team All Pac-10 seasons. He averaged 15.2 points per game last year as a redshirt junior, on 43.0% shooting from the field and 40.4% shooting from three-point range. Hernandez dished out 4.0 assists per game with a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio. It was his redshirt sophomore year in 2003-04, however, that earned Hernandez his greatest acclaim. In that breakout season, the Stanford lead guard averaged 10.0 points per game with a 44.9% shooting from the field and 46.0% shooting from beyond the arc. He added 4.3 assists per game with a 1.83 A/TO ratio.
His scoring increased this past year, as was necessary after the loss of a wealth of Cardinal talent, including Josh Childress, Matt Lottich and Justin Davis. But two factors conspired to depress Hernandez' shooting percentages this past season. He was a focus of defensive scouting reports and assignments as the number one scoring option on the team, and that became even more true after the season-ending injury to Dan Grunfeld in February. Hernandez shot 45% through the last game Grunfeld played, but afterward the point guard managed just 33% from downtown.
A second factor which disadvantaged Hernandez this year was the high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason. Only a handful of people saw the level at which he was playing coming out of the summer and into the fall. It was the best basketball I have ever seen Hernandez play, and he was poised for an All-American season. The ankle injury he suffered in October, however, held him out of practices and scrimmages almost all the way to the start of the season. While Hernandez is a tough player and a good athlete, his best success is predicated upon his skills, and his skill level was greatly crippled to start the season - relative to what he had honed throughout the off-season. He regained some of his timing during the year, but he never regained a consistent level of play in the winter to mirror what he displayed in the summer.
If he can stay healthy through this off-season, and play healthy through the basketball regular season, we could still see the best basketball Chris Hernandez has in him. While we selfishly rejoice at his return for the 2005-06 season, for how he will elevate the success of the Stanford team and program, we should also lick our chops at the chance to see a level of Hernandez' play previously unknown to Pac-10 opponents. That is the real story and excitement today.
When his timing and shot are at their finest, Hernandez has an ability to take over a ballgame scoring with the basketball. We have seen him make big shots behind the three-point line, and we have at times seen him take it to the rim. What was mostly missing this past year, but I saw before his ankle injury, was a mid-range game that could demoralize defenses. The 2005-06 season hopefully will afford us the complete Chris Hernandez package.
Some Stanford fans quietly were disturbed by Hernandez' testing of the draft waters this spring - partially out of some fear of losing him, and partially out of disbelief that the fourth-year point guard could realistically achieve a respectable draft selection. But NCAA rules allow a student-athlete to declare and then return once during his college career, and Hernandez risked little - if anything - by taking grasp of that opportunity. Hernandez was in such advanced shape academically at Stanford that he was able to take a very light course load during the spring quarter, which allowed him to stay eligible, finish his undergraduate degree, and also engineer an intense draft preparation schedule of workouts. He undoubtedly comes out of the spring a better basketball player than had he not followed this path. He also holds his degree in hand and a year of college basketball (plus master's studies in sociology) at Stanford ahead. Hernandez played regular pickup games with his Stanford teammates throughout the spring, refusing to sacrifice his friendships and chemistry.
Hernandez appeared in nobody's first round mock draft predictions these last few months, and he appeared on a rare few second round draft boards. He not only missed out on making ESPN.com's list of top 10 point guards for this draft; Hernandez was 10 deep on the next list after that. Logic says Cardinalmaniacs™ had little reason to fret during these draft water-testing months.
But Stanford fans have been gnashing teeth since the day Hernandez launched himself into this NBA Draft for one reason: history. The Cardinal had never previously had a player with remaining eligibility officially declare for the draft and then return to The Farm. Previous declarations for Jason Collins (2001), Casey Jacobsen (2002), Curtis Borchardt (2002) and Josh Childress (2004) all ended "badly" for those who wanted to see one more year of their favorite stars in a Stanford uniform. Adam Keefe (1991) made a declaration at the end of his junior season that he was returning for his senior year at Stanford, but he did not formally enter the draft at any time.
So Hernandez has not only made Cardinal hearts all over the globe swell with joy on this day; he has also made some history. He is the first Stanford player to declare for the draft and then withdraw his name to return. What does that mean? Not much. But in the irrational and exuberant mind of the Maples Maniac, it is a heartening precedent.
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