The Jan. 13 announcement by the NCAA switched the deadline for declaration from before the NBA combine to up to 10 days after the combine's completion in an effort to give players a better idea of where they would go in the draft. Student-athletes are also now able participate in the draft process - including attending the combine and pre-draft workouts, and "trying out" for one NBA team per year - multiple times during their college career. That allows college players to test their professional status on a more thorough basis, and do it in more than one year without losing eligibility.
In a release, the NCAA noted that "in an effort to both provide students the chance to make more fully informed decisions and prepare themselves for a potential professional basketball career, the Division I Council adopted a proposal that, among other provisions, changes the date by which a student must remove his name from the NBA draft. The change is effective immediately, and students can take advantage of the new process for the 2016 NBA draft."
The release also said that the changes were a result of "extensive collaboration among the NCAA, NBA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which worked together to provide more flexibility for men’s basketball student-athletes with professional aspirations."
Hailed by some and chastised by others, the rules give added flexibility to student-athletes. But, as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins noted, it places added stresses on the college programs, which are left in flux as to whether players will return further into recruiting.
"I think it puts the other 12 guys at a disadvantage," Huggins said of returning players. "It's great if the guy comes back. But if not, it's now too late to fill that spot. Or do you fill it anticipating he leaves? I think sometimes we make rules that are good for individuals that aren't good for the whole. I've always though we should do what's best for the whole team."
On the surface, it would seem to especially affect programs like Kentucky, which often sends multiple players into the draft. But the coaches are typically aware of those pending losses. What the rule change is more likely to affect could be teams that have multiple players on the bubble. Where those teams might have retained them in the past, now they could lose those players, and be stuck with unknowns deeper into the recruiting process. The situation will be something to eye through the deadline, and to see how it affects college programs over the initial years of its implementation.
Huggins also gave his thoughts on his team and the upcoming match-up with Texas. The Longhorns are now 11-6 overall, 3-2 in the Big 12, and have won three of four despite a foot injury that has sidelined Cameron Ridley indefinitely since Dec. 28. The center broke his foot in practice prior to the Dec. 29 loss to Connecticut, and hasn't played since. First-year head coach Shaka Smart said he expects the senior back sometimes this season, but that any return certainly wouldn't happen through at least the first month of healing.
Ridley was a highly-rated recruit out of Houston, but hadn't lived up to those expectations through his first three seasons. This year, the 6-9, 285-pounder averaged career-highs of 12.7 points, 10 rebounds and 3.4 blocks through the first 11 games. Texas has survived via point guard Isaiah Taylor. The preseason All-Big 12 pick has averaged a team-high 17.2 points and 4.8 assists and shot 47 percent while playing 30 minutes per game. Add backcourt mate Javan Felix, who averages 10.8 points per game and is shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range, and the guard play has anchored the team in Smart's initial season.
"I like their team," Huggins said. "Shaka has done a great job with the injuries they went through and made some changes to give them a chance to win. I like his team. They do a great job in transition and keep you off-balance defensively. They might have the best point guard in the league, and we have a lot of good ones."
"He's a great guy. I think we called him last year to talk a little about pressure during the NCAA Tournament to see if he had any different insight as to what we were doing. He went to school in Ohio (at Kenyon), coached at Akron. I've spent most of my life in Ohio, so you kinda run across those guys."
- Huggins also spoke to the play of WVU freshman forward Esa Ahamad. Ahmad is averaging 4.6 points, three rebounds and two assists while playing 19.3 minutes. Ahmad hasn't shot as well as hoped (53.5 percent at the line, 15.4 from three-point range) but has made solid adjustments to the speed of the major college level while his court vision and decision making continues to improve. "I think he has gotten better in every area," Huggins said. "He is getting much better defensively, much better in rebounding. He is starting to rebound the ball the way we thought he could rebound the ball. He has gotten better offensively moving the ball. He made a three at Oklahoma. We are happy with him."
- Huggins was asked if he considered at rotational changes, which would be rare considering the success the Mountaineers have had in bringing guards Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip off the bench for added scoring. "I think right now everybody is in favor of leaving it how it is," Huggins said. "We thought Jaysean would be abl to come off the bench and score the ball. We knew Tarik would have an impact, and we need Tarik to do that, so the way we play, it really doesn't matter who starts. It's more about who finishes the game."