By Brian Schmitz
Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel May 24, 2005
Now you see an NCAA champion now you don't. North Carolina is about to go poof as a college basketball powerhouse, at least temporarily, before the Tar Heels even have a chance to defend their NCAA crown. Coach Roy Williams' team, which is losing its top seven scorers (including four underclassmen) from 2004-05, is being wiped out by a raging, uncontrollable force: the NBA. The professional draft (see charts) has been plucking ACC underclassmen since 1971, when Barry Yates of Maryland turned pro after his junior season. But over the last decade especially, the rate of early departures has reached an alarming level. From 1995-2004, 25 of the league's non-seniors attempted the jump to play-for-pay land, with widely varying degrees of success. This year alone, a record 10 ACC underclassmen the previous high was five, in both 1999 and 2002 entered their names into the draft. At press time, four of them (see chart) had left open the option of returning to school, and they can do so as long as they remove their names by the NBA's June 21 withdrawal deadline. The other six players signed with agents and/or acted as a professional in some other manner, thus ending their college eligibility. North Carolina's ACC-high 15 all-time early entries (including 2004 high school signee J.R. Smith, who never actually suited up for the Tar Heels) date all the way back to Bob McAdoo in 1972. Since 1999, Duke also has become a productive farm club (with eight early entries) in that regard, after somehow avoiding such complications previously. But never before has one team lost so many early-entry candidates in the NBA's annual talent auction. Carolina is losing three junior starters this year, plus freshman phenom Marvin Williams, who could go No. 1 overall in the June 28 draft. Nothin' could be finer than to be in the NBA, apparently. "You look at four guys leaving one team and that's tough. Forget what happens in the rest of the ACC. One team losing that many players has an impact," Orlando Magic director of player personnel Dave Twardzik said. "Now, if a kid has a great freshman year and declares, it really puts a coach in a tough position. He's leaving after one year, when maybe you planned on having him for three. You play a part in his development, and now you have to replace him already." After losing the 1999 NCAA title game to Connecticut, Duke's successful stay-in-school program finally was rocked by a mass defection. The Blue Devils became the first college team in the history of the draft to produce four first-round picks: Elton Brand, William Avery, Corey Maggette and Trajan Langdon. Maggette was a freshman, while Brand and Avery were sophomores. Langdon was a senior. Said one NBA scout: "Except for what happened to Duke that one year, what's happening to Carolina is the most extreme, no question. But it's the ACC. You recruit the cream of the crop, you're bound to lose the cream sooner rather than later." Point guard Raymond Felton, center Sean May and shooting guard Rashad McCants all juniors are leaving the Tar Heels to make the walk to shake NBA commissioner David Stern's hand. That shouldn't be surprising to anyone, not anymore. In the case of Williams (who won't be 20 until June 19, 2006) and perhaps others, there are underclassmen who may be rushing to beat a proposed age limit. This summer, the NBA is trying to persuade its union to bar players under 20 years old from entering the draft, despite the heroics of LeBron James and many others as dream teens. There has been no indication of a proposed cut-off date (the early entry deadline? the draft itself?) in the on-going negotiations. "If the league can get an age requirement, it obviously will help the NBA game and the college basketball game," an NBA scout said. "I don't know if the NBA can get away with it legally, if we're challenged (in court). The NFL did. I know that a lot of basketball coaches would throw parties if kids had to wait until they are 20." Meanwhile, the Tar Heels will be searching for an all-new team next season. They also are losing senior starters Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel, plus senior reserve Melvin Scott. So much for the Grand Return of Roy. Williams, who came back to lead his alma mater to the title with a victory over Illinois in the NCAA final, will have to keep recruiting stars at a maddening pace, unless the NBA stops the exodus. "We scored 75 points in the NCAA title game, and we have one point (a free throw by junior David Noel) coming back to school, but I wouldn't trade it," Williams said. "The national championship was something very special, and (turning pro is) what's best for those young men." Along with the Carolina stars, the No. 1 pick could come out of the ACC. If it's not Williams, it could be Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul. Either could edge Utah center Andrew Bogut as the top selection. In addition to Paul and UNC's celebrated quartet, junior point guard Jarrett Jack of Georgia Tech and senior swingman Julius Hodge of N.C. State could be first-round choices. Junior point guard John Gilchrist of Maryland, junior center Eric Williams of Wake Forest, senior forward Jawad Williams of UNC, sophomore wing guard Von Wafer of Florida State and junior forward Shavlik Randolph of Duke could go in the second round. Marvin Williams, Fr., North Carolina Some NBA executives, scouts and draftniks are predicting that the league's No. 1 pick will be a college reserve. Williams may have come off he bench for a talented and experienced UNC team, but he showed enough in his freshman season to average 11.2 points and 6.6 rebounds while dropping some jaws along the way. At 6-9, he has the body (long and athletic) and the game (skilled and versatile) to pass Paul and Bogut as the top lottery pick. Word is that the Charlotte Bobcats if they land the No. 1 selection will invest in Williams' upside. While the Bobcats also need a point guard (hello, Chris Paul), they feel that they'd end up kicking themselves if they passed on Williams. Many people around the league cannot contain their enthusiasm about Williams, who has impressed them with his personality, humility and character as well as his obvious talent. "He'd be my odds-on first pick in the draft," said one Eastern Conference scout, who requested anonymity because of the NBA's policy against discussing underclassmen. "Bogut might go because it's so hard to find big men, but I think Marvin can be a superstar while Bogut will never dominate. Marvin has the size and the skill, and I think he's head and shoulders above his teammates at Carolina. He had some freshman jitters in the tournament, but that's a freshman for you." Said one Eastern Conference player personnel director of Williams: "That kid is very, very impressive. You look at his upside, and he's off the charts. We'd like high school kids and freshmen to stay in school longer, but Williams' (draft) value can't get any higher than it is now." Chris Paul, So., Wake Forest Paul is considered by most the best point guard in a point guard-heavy draft class, although he's certainly not as big as 6-3 Illinois combo guard Deron Williams. Paul's program height is 6-0, which means he's probably 5-11 or 5-10. But NBA scouts and execs love his defensive quickness, his fire and the way he runs a team, with some comparing him to Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby. Paul averaged 15.3 points and 6.6 assists per game, plus 2.4 steals, for the Demon Deacons last season. "Chris Paul has a point guard mentality. He thinks of team-first. I don't think he'd care if he didn't score. He has a good feel for the game," one NBA executive said. "He's a little small, but this whole draft is a bit on the small side." An NBA scout who was with a college that recruited Paul out of high school said: "Chris has a chance to be special. He's a character guy, and I feel like that's a huge thing for a point guard, for the guy running your team. Sure, you'd rather have a bigger guard, but speed kills. Isiah Thomas wasn't a big guy, either. Paul has a change-of-pace game and will have an impact. Is he the next Isiah Thomas? I don't know, but he has the potential. At worst, he's a 10- or 15-year starter." The scout said he likes Paul's toughness and is aware that the player was embroiled in controversy after hitting Hodge below the belt in a game a few months ago. "Chris had that one mark on him," he said, "but I think too much was made out of that thing with Hodge. As an old coach once said, I need a few whiskey drinkers on my team.'" Raymond Felton, Jr., North Carolina Felton might have been the country's fastest player with a basketball in his hands last season, and he became an excellent on-the-ball defender during his time in Chapel Hill. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.9 assists last season. While his perimeter shooting also improved dramatically in 2004-05, he often struggled off the dribble and had turnover issues. Felton's decision-making at times has made some NBA teams wary, causing him to slide in some mock drafts out of the top 10. But the Los Angeles Lakers, among others, would be thrilled to snare him if he falls that far. "Felton's really quick and stronger than people think," an NBA personnel director said. "The perceived weakness is his shot." Added one NBA scout, "He hasn't gotten better, as I hoped he would. Raymond can run a team, but I think he's probably a backup (in the NBA)." Sean May, Jr., North Carolina May was the MVP of the NCAA championship game, dominating the Fighting Illini with 26 points and 10 rebounds in leading Carolina to its first national title since 1993. The son of Scott May, who played for Bobby Knight's undefeated 1976 Indiana title team and then in the NBA, Sean averaged 17.3 points on the season. Listed at 6-9 and 265 pounds, May has an NBA-type double-wide body, although he needs to continue to upgrade his conditioning. He is projected as a late lottery pick. "May has a great basketball IQ and very good hands. He doesn't mind physical contact, either," said one league executive, who has played in the NBA and served as a general manager. "He has good quickness. But on the downside, he's not very explosive." Said one NBA scout, "I see May as a career backup power forward who could have a 10-year career. He's a poor man's Elton Brand. You can bring him off the bench, and he'll score against the other team's second unit. May can score, has a true back-to-the-basket game. He's not 6-11 or 6-10, so he's going to have some trouble against the taller power forwards. The taller, quicker guys will give him trouble." Rashad McCants, Jr., North Carolina Here's the book on the 6-4 McCants: He can flat-out score, averaging 16 points last season for a team designed to spread the wealth. He has a great jump shot with long range, and he can get to the hoop at will against most defenders. He's also very strong. The downside: McCants was up and down emotionally during his career. He clashed terribly with former UNC coach Matt Doherty, who once asked McCants to see a psychologist, and he often exhibits a very self-centered, woe-is-me view of the world. He'll also need to hone his dribbling ability and be more consistent defensively to truly thrive in the NBA. "The book on (McCants) is that he could be a headcase," one NBA executive said. "He sure can score. He might be undersized, but he's very skilled offensively." Jarrett Jack, Jr., Georgia Tech Jack was torn over turning pro or staying at Tech for his senior season. He's keeping his options open (no agent yet) into June while working out for NBA teams, who generally rank him as the fourth- or fifth-best point guard in the draft. "I'm surprised he's as torn as he is," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. Jack, one of the draft's bigger floor leaders, led the Yellow Jackets in scoring last season at nearly 16 points per game. His strong two-way play likely will make him a first-round pick, although some wonder if he has the quickness to defend NBA point guards. "Jack intrigues me," an NBA scout said. "He has size and steps up in big games. He may be a better player in the pros than he was in college. He had some turnover problems, but I don't worry about that." Julius Hodge, Sr., N.C. State At 6-7, but still entirely too skinny, Hodge was a versatile player for the Wolfpack, even playing the point at times. He averaged 17 points and 4.8 assists per game last season, and scouts love his personality, work ethic and passion for the game. He also has a tremendous ability to get to the basket, but he can be a streaky shooter. "He's not a consistently good shooter," one NBA scout said. "And he doesn't look like a sure ball-handler at times. He might be a late first-round pick, but he'll probably fall into the second round." John Gilchrist, Jr., Maryland Along with Jack, he's one of the bigger point guards available. Gilchrist, 6-3, is tough, has a big heart and was one of the better rebounding guards in college basketball last season. But scouts shake their heads at times when they watch him play. They see an emotionally fragile player who still makes too many bad decisions, as a playmaker and on defense, and his repeated clashes with respected coach Gary Williams didn't help his reputation. He's an emotional leader. I think he's peaked," an NBA executive said. "At times I thought he dominated the ball too much." Eric Williams, Jr., Wake Forest Williams, 6-9 and 275 pounds, announced that he would explore his NBA options, but he's likely to return to school for his senior season. He said he would remain in the draft only if he's guaranteed to be a first-round selection, and entering June that appeared unlikely. NBA execs loved the aggressiveness and offensive polish Williams displayed for the first time as a junior, and he's a load down on the block in college, but he'll need more than a power game to succeed at the next level. If he can add more dimensions during his senior season, he's likely to make his first-round dream come true in 2006. Jawad Williams, Sr., North Carolina Williams did a lot of the dirty work and the little things for the Tar Heels, even though he wasn't necessarily a natural fit for that role. At an athletic 6-9 and 220 pounds, he definitely has an NBA body, but questions persist about his toughness and overall game. If Williams is going to make an NBA roster, he'll have to show that he has the ability to shoot from long range (as he did at times in college) and defend the league's super-quick wing forwards (that could be a problem). Otherwise, he'll make a very nice living overseas. Shavlik Randolph, Jr., Duke Randolph struggled through illness and injuries during his three seasons with the Blue Devils, averaging just 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. An All-American coming out of high school, he shot over 50 percent from the field at Duke, but almost everyone was surprised when he entered his name into the draft just before the mid-May deadline. Teaming with Shelden Williams, who decided to return to Durham for his senior season, Randolph helped give Duke a strong inside presence last season. The problem: While Randolph (no agent yet) served the Blue Devils fairly well in his rebounder/rejector role and likely would be able to do so again in 2005-06, his future at the professional level will depend largely on his ability to hit three-pointers and play while facing the basket. Those perimeter skills are what made Randolph famous in high school, and those are the skills he's putting on display for NBA teams during pre-draft workouts. Most scouts and execs believe he'll have to try to make the leap to the pros as a free agent, but some said he's been impressive enough to play himself into the second round. That likely would be enough of an enticement for Randolph, who has said that he would return to Durham before he would seek a transfer or investigate a career overseas. Other ACC draft-eligible prospects (seniors unless noted otherwise): Florida State sophomore guard Von Wafer, Duke guard Daniel Ewing, Clemson forward Sharrod Ford, Georgia Tech center Luke Schenscher, Georgia Tech guard B.J. Elder, Georgia Tech forward Isma'il Muhammad, Georgia Tech guard Will Bynum, North Carolina forward Jackie Manuel, Wake Forest guard Taron Downey, Wake Forest forward Vytas Danelius, Wake Forest forward Jamaal Levy, Virginia forward Devin Smith, Virginia forward Elton Brown, Virginia forward Jason Clark, Florida State forward Adam Waleskowski, Florida State forward Anthony Richardson, Virginia Tech guard Carlos Dixon.