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Long A Gushing Pipeline For Pro Hoops, Acc Keeps Nba Draft Talent Flowing

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By John Delong
Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal

May 30, 2007

The ACC's presence in the NBA draft, scheduled this year for June 28 in New York City, should be strong again.

The First-Round Locks; First / Second-Rounders;
Second-Round Probables; Second-Round Maybes; International Or NBDL

After a relatively "down" year in 2006, when the ACC sent just three first-round picks (J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Cedric Simmons) to the league, indications are that at least five ACC players are sure-fire first-round picks, and two or three others (but probably not all) could sneak into the top round.

The sure-fires: North Carolina forward Brandan Wright, Florida State forward Al Thornton, Duke forward Josh McRoberts, Georgia Tech wing Thaddeus Young and Georgia Tech point guard Javaris Crittenton. The one or more maybes: Wake Forest center Kyle Visser, Boston College forward Jared Dudley and Boston College center Sean Williams.

What's the biggest difference between this year's ACC crop and last year's?

One thing jumps out. In 2006, the ACC lost no freshmen to the NBA. In 2007, three rookies – Wright, Young and Crittenton – appear destined to be first-round picks, although Young had not yet signed with an agent at press time, leaving open the possibility of a return to college in 2007-08.

It brings into focus the NBA's still-new 19-year-old age requirement, which was implemented before last year's draft.

It also prompts the debate that has been heated inside ACC circles and around college basketball: Is the new rule fostering an era of "one-and-doners," who come to college for only a year because they have to? Is this nothing more than a cosmetic move by the NBA to keep the heat off, and is it ultimately still bad for college basketball and the ACC in particular?

Some believe that the real answer is no, even if Wright, Young and Crittenton are leaving after one year.

In some ways, the new rule already is proving to benefit the ACC in the ways it hoped. Don't look only at the three players leaving after one year; look at all but three players staying after one year. Look at Ty Lawson, who arrived at North Carolina last year brazenly expressing his one-and-done intentions but is now set to return for his sophomore season. Look at UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, who likely would have been a lottery pick after his freshman season, now set to return for his junior year.

Chris Ekstrand has worn many draft-related hats with the NBA, as a long-time editor of the NBA Draft Guide and a consultant. He knows the draft. He knows the NBA. He knows the ACC. And he believes it is working out pretty well for everyone.

"I have lived in Chapel Hill, and I understand the passion of ACC basketball fans, and I understand the way they think," Ekstrand said. "But I think ACC fans get tunnel vision sometimes. They see three guys leave after one year, and they know it's going to hurt their team and the league, and they assume that means it's a nation-wide problem. It isn't a nation-wide problem.

"The rule is having a very positive impact, because what is happening is that the rule sends a large number of players into the programs and conferences, players that would have thought about going to the NBA straight out of high school. And once they're there, they get a little comeuppance and realize just because they're McDonalds All-Americans, it doesn't mean they're ready for the NBA. And at that point, they realize the right thing to do is to develop their basketball game in college and hopefully develop the social graces and all the things that college should do for you."

Wright, Crittenton and Young are three of just nine college freshmen who could fall into the category of "one-and-doners" this year. Two others, Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas wing Kevin Durant, probably will be the first two players drafted. Two more, OSU guards Mike Conley and Daequan Cook, also project as first-round picks.

A total of 58 underclassmen declared for this draft, but that number is inflated because a handful are rising seniors who merely are taking advantage of their opportunities to "test the waters" and plan to return for their final season. The NCAA gives all underclassmen one such opportunity without penalty, so many rising seniors take the "why-not?" approach, as long as they didn't test the waters earlier in their college careers.

Compare this year's number (58) to 2005, the last year before the 19-year age requirement took hold, when there were 73 early entries. Twelve of them were high school seniors, and five were college freshmen, for a total of 17. So a drop of 17 to nine in two years is a reduction of almost 50 percent.

"The numbers are down," Ekstrand said. "The trend is definitely going down. But there are always going to be those players in the one percentile like Oden, Durant and Brandan Wright who are not the norm, and who are special players. So when elite players like that come along, you're going to lose some.

"You look at North Carolina recruits over the years and they recruit elite players, and so no matter if the age rule is 18, 19 or even if you change it to 20, those elite players are going to go as soon as they get the chance.

"Now, in my opinion, Young and Crittenton are a different matter. They could drop into the 20s, and if they do they'll be going to good teams and they might not get a lot of playing time and they might not develop their games as well as they could in college. I don't know how happy they'll be if they're sitting on the bench somewhere next year, or how good it will be for their development.

"But that's their decision. No matter what the rules are, some people are going to make mistakes, and who's to say at this point they are making a mistake? The fact is, the rule is preventing a lot of people from making mistakes because they get to college and they find out they're not ready for the NBA.

"Guys like Brandan Wright, Marvin Williams, though, you can't call it a mistake to come out and be the second or third pick in the draft."

All told, the ACC likely will have about 10 players selected this year – since the reduction of the draft to two rounds in 1989, the league has never had more than 10 selections in a single year – and it could produce as many as 14 or 15 picks, depending on how the final stages of the second round unfold.

Last year, only seven ACC products were picked: Williams (Duke), Redick (Duke) and Simmons (N.C. State) in the first round, and David Noel (UNC), Craig Smith (Boston College), Alexander Johnson (Florida State) and Guillermo Diaz (Miami) in the second round.

Here's a look at the 2007 list of potential ACC draftees, plus other departing players who may wind up playing professionally overseas or in the NBDL. Virtually everyone listed will be on some NBA team's summer-league roster, with the chance to impress and make it to a preseason training camp, even if he's not drafted.

Note: The assessments below come not from a single source, but from various NBA scouts who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The comments were made before the NBA's pre-draft camp (May 29-June 4) in Orlando, where some players could see their stock rise or drop significantly.

THE FIRST-ROUND LOCKS

Brandan Wright, North Carolina

Wright is showing up at No. 3 on most mock drafts. There's no way he'll go ahead of Oden or Durant, but it's hard to imagine him being around much after that. He averaged 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman, but those numbers don't reflect the raw talent and athleticism he showed throughout the season. The major flaw is his free throw shooting, 56.7 percent last season, but the team that drafts him will fix that over time. Once he bulks up – he's listed at 6-9, 205 – the future is extremely bright.

NBA scout: "He's a top three-four-five pick, depending on the lottery and who needs what. He's so long, and when his age and his maturity catch up with his body, he'll be a long-time NBA player. Obviously, his outside shot needs work and he needs weight, but his length and his ability to run the floor and block shots are all strengths right now."

Al Thornton, Florida State

Thornton seems destined to be a lottery pick, after averaging 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior. Scouts agree that he improved his stock by returning for his senior season, even if it was another frustrating year, with FSU failing to make the NCAA Tournament and often failing to get him the ball enough. Thornton's 0.7-2.5 assist-turnover ratio doesn't impress, but his offensive skills do, and he has the motor that all NBA teams are seeking.

NBA scout: "I think Al projects as a top-15 type player. Great improvement, really plays hard. That's probably the greatest skill he has, he comes to play every night, every possession. Has improved, a great deal, his shooting. I think he can play both forward positions. His negatives are he's not a very skilled player as far as handling the ball, very poor turnover ratio. And there are some questions about how he'll be able to defend away from the basket. But he competes so well that he's going to be OK. He just doesn't take games off. He may have a poor statistical game, but the effort's always there."

Josh McRoberts, Duke

McRoberts actually saw his draft stock slide as a sophomore, while averaging 13.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He would have been a sure-fire lottery pick, probably in the top 10, had he come out after his freshman year, based on potential and the lack of 6-10 multi-skilled players in last year's draft. Now that more flaws have been exposed, he'll be lucky to make it into the lottery and could drop well down in the first round. He's clearly talented, but he didn't step up at Duke, and now he may fall down in the draft because of it.

NBA scout: "I think the right team will be important to how successful he is, especially right away. He's a complementary player, and you put him with the right kind of players to take advantage of what he does best, which is pass the ball, make plays, rebounds OK, he can certainly run very well. Not good quickness, but he's a runner. The only thing I think he really has to improve on, he's got to come up with a couple shots or moves that he can go to and rely on to score, because he has trouble scoring sometimes. I don't think he trusts his outside shot, and he hasn't really developed a good jump hook. He should be able to, because he's ambidextrous, but he hasn't really yet. He obviously projects in the first round, but where he projects will depend on his workouts. I could see him getting into the lottery or dropping into the 20s. I think the right team is important for him."

Thaddeus Young*, Georgia Tech

Young averaged 14.4 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman, playing an average of 29.6 minutes. He wasn't a dominant player by any means, but the raw talent was clear for all to see. He has the body (6-8, 217), the mobility and enough range already (41.9 percent from three-point range) to project as a potential lottery pick, or perhaps just below. It would have been difficult to project Young going ahead of McRoberts at the start of the season, but that may wind up happening in June.

NBA scout: "Thaddeus has a lot of potential. He's got small forward skills, he can shoot the ball outside. He's just young, and that's not just a play on the name. He needs time. But the skills are there to be able to play in the league, and I think he's a guy somewhat like McRoberts, where the workouts and getting with the right team can push him a little early in the draft, or he could drop some. I think there's so much parity once you get past seven or eight guys, and then after you get past 12 or 14 guys there's a lot of parity, and it might come down to what position you want. One team may want a small forward like Thaddeus Young, and another may want a bigger player like McRoberts, and another may want a point guard like Crittenton. So that could make a difference in where Young is drafted."

Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech

Crittenton is projected to go in the first round, but the jury's out on whether that will be in the late teens or in the 20s. Some of that, obviously, depends on his workouts. He averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists, clearly getting more assertive down the stretch as Tech got hot late. He was a big reason, and that reinforces his upside and potential to keep improving. One other thing will help Crittenton's cause: This is not a draft loaded with pure point guards. He might rate as the second-best true point guard prospect, behind Conley.

NBA scout: "He is interesting because he is a point guard with size. He's got to work on his decision-making and the consistency of his shot. Most guys become better shooters in the pros, but the decision-making is just a matter of playing. You know, he's another young guy that's got a lot to learn. But you've got to like his potential because of his size."

FIRST/SECOND-ROUNDERS

Jared Dudley, Boston College

Dudley was the ACC player of the year, after averaging 19.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. But that doesn't guarantee him making the first round, because at 6-7 and 225 pounds he will have to play small forward in the NBA, and he may not have the quickness and refined perimeter skills to compete against the best at that position. In a best-case scenario, he would follow Josh Howard's path, get drafted late in the first round by a good team that could develop him at its pace, and find his niche. That may not happen, though.

NBA scout: "The thing about him, he's a legit basketball player in all ways, competitive. His negatives are he may not be athletic enough, especially as a three man, where he projects. I think he's one of those guys, though, that could actually end up getting on a better team and may be able to contribute. He's probably a second-round pick. I know some people that are projecting him into the late first, but we'll see. I mean, he's a guy that could very easily grow on a coaching staff, because he knows how to play and he's competitive. There are guys every year, that kinda guy that comes out of nowhere during the workouts, and he may be one of those guys. I think for him, getting on the right team would be a big help."

Kyle Visser, Wake Forest

Visser averaged 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocked shots and shot 58.4 percent from the field while surrounded by a bunch of young players. But here are the numbers that matter: 6-11, 244. He's one of the few true post players in this draft, and for that fact alone he'll get some looks. He's not a first-round lock, for sure, and some teams don't rate him highly at all. But as they have said in the NBA all along, it only takes one team or one general manager to like you.

NBA scout: "Visser's going to get a lot of looks because of his size and his ability to score in the post. He's fairly agile but he's certainly not quick, and that's a negative. But I think the size, the competitiveness, the willingness to score in the post some, and he's a fairly agile runner – not swift, but agile – he's going to get a lot of chances. He's another guy that could help his cause with good workouts. I think when you look at the history of the draft, there are guys like him that will go in the final third of the first round. People decide to go ahead and lock them up, especially now that the commitment is only two years. So while you don't want to gamble too much on a pick like that, still, if you're going to gamble, you're going to gamble with a big guy."

Sean Williams, Boston College

Williams may be the most curious ACC player in this draft, because of his on-court talents and his off-court problems. He was suspended twice while at BC, eventually getting kicked off the team 15 games into last season, and his rap sheet includes marijuana possession and underage drinking. If he was squeaky clean and focused, he'd be a sure-fire first-round pick. If he drops into the second round, there will be only one reason why. He may be the best pure shotblocker in the draft, or the second-best behind Oden, and he has all of the physical skills. But somebody will be taking a risk, and that's why he may not warrant the two-year guaranteed contract that automatically comes with being a first-rounder.

NBA scout: "Obviously, the off-the-court stuff is going to factor in, and it could factor in a great deal. A lot of teams would be afraid to make a first-round commitment, even if he does well in all the workouts and everything, which he is very capable of doing. He's also, quite frankly, going to be tested for some of the things he's had issues with, and you don't know how that's going to come out. But he's a big guy that, early in the second round, some teams might be very interested in. He can block shots, he's quick off his feet, he's a good athlete. I mean, anybody that would look at the tape of the game he had against Kansas this year, you're going to be teased by him. That's the word a lot of people use, a tease, and that's certainly what he is. He's going to get chances. He may get numerous chances by different teams."

Sean Singletary*, Virginia

Singletary averaged 19.0 points and 4.7 assists as a junior, but he hadn't signed with an agent (note asterisks next to some players' names) at press time and still had the ability to return to college. His size, listed at 6-0 but probably exaggerated, won't help. His skills will, and his grasp of the game will. Williams is the most curious ACC player in this draft, but Singletary is intriguing, too, in a different way. Now may be the time for him to stay in the draft, because of the expected depth of the point guard crop in the 2008 class. One more year at Virginia probably would not help Singletary's draft stock.

NBA scout: "You're hesitant to talk about Singletary, because he may well be one of those guys who decides to go back to school if he doesn't project high enough. He may decide if he projects to get into the first round then he'll stay in, and if not he'll go back. He's got the quickness and court vision you want in a point guard, and obviously the range. But I think what it's going to come down to is, he's just going to have to prove that he's better than some of these other point guards that are all kind of in the same category."

SECOND-ROUND PROBABLES

Reyshawn Terry, North Carolina

Terry averaged 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds as a senior, but that came in just 21.5 minutes per night on a team that went nine deep and had other stars. Anyone who saw him play understands the inconsistency, but he made great strides during his career and the athleticism is definitely there. His UNC ties should help him get drafted. What he does from there will be up to him.

NBA scout: "He's a guy a number of teams are interested in. I don't know how interested. I think it will be critical for him to play well in the workouts in order to get drafted. But he's interesting because of his lift and athleticism and the fact that he shoots the ball fairly well at times. People say he's been up and down in his performance and that's true, but you have to consider he was a secondary player on talented teams the last two or three years. So nobody expected him to put up great numbers. The stuff about his attitude, I don't think that bothers anyone, because if you're picking a guy like that, you're picking him in the second round. So you're looking at it like, ‘If he gets it all together,' as opposed to, ‘If he doesn't.' It's a risk-reward thing. There isn't much risk taking a guy like that in the second round, but there is a reward if he makes it."

J.R. Reynolds, Virginia

Reynolds averaged 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists and had some huge scoring outbursts, including 40 against Wake Forest. He and Singletary were the main reasons Virginia overachieved and tied for first place in the regular-season ACC standings. But at 6-3 (maybe) and accustomed to playing off guard, Reynolds falls into the dime-a-dozen category of undersized shooting guards, and that makes his draft status precarious. He should be drafted, but that's not a given.

NBA scout: "He's in a situation similar to a lot of guys, with finding the right team. What's different for him is he's a smaller guy and primarily a shooter, primarily a two guard. So the fact that he can shoot the ball and make long shots, even if he's a little streaky, helps him. But the fact that he's only 6-2, and nobody's convinced he can play point guard, hurts him. So that's what he's got to show in the workouts, that he could play point guard. Or else he's got to make so many shots that somebody says, ‘Listen, let's see if we can find a spot for him.' But I don't think he's a sure draftee. I think you could take 60 names when the whole world comes into account and not have him in there. You have teams reaching for big guys late in the second round a lot. But then again, if you're reaching for somebody, Reynolds can shoot, and that could work in his favor, too."

Zabian Dowdell, Virginia Tech

Dowdell averaged 17.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and had more steals than turnovers as a senior. Unlike some 6-3 guards with scoring instincts such as Reynolds, he may have the ability to play point guard. But the late second round becomes a crapshoot a lot of times, and that's when the international players and big men usually get the benefit of the doubt. Second-rounder or not, Dowdell will have to impress in the summer leagues and then again in training camp to make an NBA roster, or else it's off to Europe or elsewhere.

NBA scout: "I like his chances of being drafted, because he has some point guard skills, he's a good defender, he can get the ball places off the dribble. His shooting is suspect. He's got good size and could develop into a point guard. But there's just so much competition with guys like him, just so many guys that you can put in that category. He hurt himself at Portsmouth by leaving early without telling Marty Blake and those guys, so he'll have to play well in the workouts. That could be critical for him."

SECOND-ROUND MAYBES

D.J. Strawberry, Maryland

Strawberry averaged 14.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals, but if he gets drafted it will be because of his athleticism as a 6-5 player who can get out in transition and make things happen. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Strawberry the best open-court player in the league last season, and that gives him something to hang his hat on in this draft. General managers love to see a player with a specific skill, not just a nice game. If Strawberry doesn't get drafted, he could wind up in the NBA anyway, or after a year or two in the NBDL or overseas. He's one worth watching as the years progress.

NBA scout: "I think he's a guy that if he finds the right team and right style of play, he could do pretty well. He could help a team. A team that's going to play a little up and down and be a little chaotic defensively and do a lot of trapping and stuff like that, he could really help. Even though he's a little turnover-prone, he still has the ability to handle the ball and make a play. A pretty good open-court player offensively and defensively. Obviously, shooting will be a question mark, but generally guys become better shooters once they get into the pros. So I think he could be drafted, or there are a lot of teams that have him near the top of their lists for undrafted players at summer camps. I think he'll get a lot of calls if he's undrafted, and then somebody may say, ‘Hey, we're going to go ahead and draft him so we don't have to worry about that.'"

Ekene Ibekwe, Maryland

Ibekwe entered the draft and went through the process in 2006, then returned to Maryland. He was wise to do so, but he didn't exactly make the most of his senior year, averaging 10.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots. Some folks just don't think he has the skills to play. But at 6-9 with long arms and agility, he fits into the category of raw big men that somebody might roll the dice on. Consider him the ACC's version of Akin Akingbala in this draft.

NBA scout: "He might make it in the right style of play. He can really get out and run and jump. He's very raw as a basketball player but a real explosive athlete, quick off his feet. He's similar to the guy with the Mavericks, Pops Mensa-Bonsu, that type of guy who's a lively body. Everybody likes to give those guys a chance. As far as being drafted, I don't know. There's so much competition, and so many teams have 15 guaranteed contracts already. It'll be interesting to see when we get into the second round, and late first, too, if some teams just don't want to pick a guy or they want to pick a guy in Europe rather than take a chance."

INTERNATIONAL OR NBDL

Engin Atsur, N.C. State

Atsur rode an emotional roller coaster while averaging 11.3 points as a senior, missing 12 games because of a hamstring injury and hobbling through several other games. But his draft status probably was predetermined without the injuries, even though he made the transition to full-time college point guard. He just doesn't have the quickness to play in the NBA, and the athleticism. But he has heart, and he can shoot, and as a native of Istanbul he can go back to Europe and play as a native, without counting against that team's allotment of U.S. players. That will make him very attractive to European teams.

NBA scout: "I think he ought to plan on going to Europe. I just don't see him as a draftable object right now. He could have a nice career in Europe. He could go home to Turkey and be a hometown hero. He's got some skills, no question about it. I just don't think they translate into the speed of the NBA game."

Sean Marshall, Boston College

Marshall has the size (6-6) to play wing guard and the numbers were decent – 14.8 points and 4.5 rebounds on a team that went predominantly to Dudley and point guard Tyrese Rice. But the consistency wasn't there for Marshall, and he falls into the category of players who don't have one specific skill that will get them into the NBA.

NBA scout: "I don't think he has a great chance of getting drafted. He did not play very well at all at Portsmouth, and that didn't help. He has a tendency to kinda get out of sight, out of mind. He'll get a chance somewhere, because everybody will be on a team this summer, and then it's what you make of it. But he doesn't really have anything to hang his hat on, I don't think."

Coleman Collins, Virginia Tech

Two years ago, Collins was definitely on some folks' radar. But he never fully developed, perhaps in part because of some personal tragedy, and he averaged just 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds as a senior. At 6-9 and 243 pounds, and with a center's mentality, he'll find a job overseas if he wants one, because big guys with his kind of resume always can find a job. But he will have to work his way to the NBA, and it probably will be a very long road.

NBA scout: "I don't think he projects as a guy to be drafted right now. He did not have a good senior year. Little consistency. Unlike Ibekwe, for instance, who plays with a lot of energy at times, he doesn't always do that. So I would think right now he would have to make something for himself."

Jamon Gordon, Virginia Tech

Gordon was a nice complement to Dowdell last season, averaging 11.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 steals. But on his own merits, he doesn't have one specific skill to get his foot in the door. He has NBDL written all over him, and he could be the kind of player who hangs around long enough until it all clicks. Or maybe not.

NBA scout: "I think he'll have to make it through the minor leagues. I don't foresee him being drafted, but I foresee him being one of those guys who will keep trying to play. He doesn't have a real position. He plays hard, he creates a lot of things. But in the end, I don't see him being drafted."

Mike Jones, Maryland

Jones averaged 13.8 points and shot 44.3 percent as a senior, and he was a significant reason for the Terps' run of success in February, when they were the hottest team in the ACC at one point. But he doesn't project to be drafted. He's the kind of player NBA teams would like to like but have soured on because he hasn't expanded his game. He's also the kind of player who could make a splash in Europe. Despite the many advances in the European game, the foreign coaches still like for their American players to score, and that's what Jones does best.

NBA scout: "Mike will have to make it as a specialist, because that is basically what he has become, a jump shooter. It's sort of disappointing since his McDonald's All-America days. He doesn't use his athleticism anymore. It's just all jump shooting. I would suspect, based on what happened to Rashard Anderson at Connecticut last year, he wouldn't get drafted. He'll play somewhere. I mean, he could make some nice money in Europe, so he'll find a place to play. But it's still disappointing to me how his career is playing out."

Jason Cain, Virginia

Cain averaged 6.8 points and 6.3 rebounds as a senior, and he has no chance whatsoever of getting drafted. But he's living proof that if you're 6-10, 225 pounds, willing to bang and have a decent grasp of the game, you can find a job playing professionally somewhere. It might be in Europe, it might be in Japan, but agents typically can find starting ACC centers a job somewhere.

NBA scout: "I think he'll be one of those kids who can go to Europe, one of the smaller countries, and make some money. But I sure don't see it in the NBA."

Here's a list of the ACC's other full-time scholarship players who exhausted their eligibility in 2006-07: Florida State wing guard Jerel Allen, Maryland center Will Bowers, Maryland point guard Parrish Brown, Wake Forest wing guard Michael Drum, Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton, Miami point guard Anthony Harris, Virginia Tech wing guard Markus Sailes, Virginia Tech forward Chris Tucker and Georgia Tech wing guard Mario West.

Miami center Anthony King was a senior last year but missed most of the season with a wrist injury. UM recently won an NCAA appeal that restored (on medical hardship grounds) a year of eligibility for King, who will play for the Hurricanes in 2007-08 as a fifth-year senior.

John Delong, a regular contributor to the ACC Sports Journal, covers the NBA and the ACC for the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal.