When a college basketball player decides to enter the NBA Draft before completing his eligibility in school, there are a number of things that have to be left behind. Things like coaches, campus life, thoughts of what could have been during his final college season(s) and teammates.
While Wisconsin junior guard Devin Harris did declare himself eligible for the 2004 NBA Draft Wednesday, sans agent, he is still having trouble leaving all of this behind. Though there is a heavy final decision on Harris' shoulders, his teammates have shown support for him in whatever choice he decides to make.
"I think it's a great thing for Devin to declare," sophomore guard Boo Wade said. "I really didn't get a chance to talk to him but a couple players say that he really wants to stay because he feels he has some things that he hasn't been able to accomplish yet here in college. If he does enter the draft it's going to be a great thing for him. He's a mature person and he's going to grow up and be able to do things that he's capable of doing."
"It was no surprise," freshman guard Kammron Taylor said. "A lot of people thought that he was going to declare and not sign an agent; that's the smart thing to do. To me it's like a win-win situation…he can still come back to school if he wants to or he can decide to go to the draft. I know it feels great to be him right now."
Even though Harris did put his name into the hat for the draft, it is hard not to wonder what could have been, or could still be if he does return to the team for the 2004-05 season. With only three seniors departing from last year's squad and the additions of a strong recruiting class as well as 2003-04 redshirts senior guard Sharif Chambliss, freshman center Brian Butch, sophomore forward Alando Tucker and sophomore forward Jason Chappell, Wisconsin would be hard to beat if Harris were to return.
"With him coming back next year we're going to be a great force," Wade said. "With Devin playing as good as he did last year and everyone's healthy again…we'll have a great team."
If he does not return, Wade commented that one thing that will need to be picked up among his teammates is the scoring load. While it would be the ideal situation for Harris to return to Wisconsin, his teammates said that they can step up, play their roles and still survive without him.
"If he doesn't come back I still think that we're going to be a pretty good team, top 10, whatever," Taylor said. "I think the guys we got here are a great bunch of guys and if he doesn't come back that's just going to make us work even harder."
It was evident this season that Harris was the Badgers' leader. Besides carrying the scoring load, leading the fast breaks and digging his team out of a hole whenever necessary, he helped his fellow guards perfect their game. As a freshman, Taylor received the opportunity to try to defend Harris in practice and learn everything from Harris in the process.
"He helped me out a lot," Taylor said. "When I first came down here and when practice first started I was struggling a little bit. I wasn't really used to the strength of the guys. My quickness helped me out a lot and just playing against Devin everyday I think it's going to make me a much better player. If he doesn't come back I'm going to be ready to step in and do what I got to do when the coaches call my name."
Wade also learned a lot working alongside Harris. Last season he was able to take some of the load off Harris in the starting backcourt. He is getting prepared to call the shots if Harris leaves.
"Devin just always stuck to my side and told me if he's having trouble, I'm going to have to be the one that will help him," Wade said. "He's been basically telling me if he do leave, I'm going to have to be the one to take over the team and be able to control the offense and the floor out there."
As Harris shared his leadership with his teammates, it may now be up to players like Wade and Taylor to use their experience to help bring along incoming freshman guard Michael Flowers.
"That's something for older players to do with the younger guys: just show them the ropes," Wade said. "For me to be one of the older guys now going into my junior year, I feel I have a lot of knowledge now about college ball. I'll have to share it with them and show them this is what you have to do if you want to be out here and help them step their game up."
Harris' final decision likely will not come until the week leading up to the June 17 deadline. Of the many questions Harris will seek to answer in the weeks leading up to his decision, there is one that his teammates answer without hesitation: is Harris really ready to play at the next level?
"Most definitely I think he is ready," Wade said. "He came out here and he's able to see the floor very well, he's very quick, he's able to score and do things that coach needed him to do to win games."
"I think he's ready to go to the NBA," Taylor said. "He can always come back here and get stronger, gain some weight, but he's ready."