May 1, 2007
ATLANTA Georgia Tech's freshman hoops phenoms entered the NBA draft days before the April 29 deadline for underclassmen. Don't count on Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton being one-and-done Jackets, though.
Evaluations and projections from the NBA pre-draft committee pleased neither player. That's why both declared themselves eligible for the draft.
But both players made it clear that they would maintain their amateur status by not hiring an agent, and by paying their own way to pre-draft camps and workouts as required by NCAA rules. That will leave open the possibility of withdrawing from the draft and returning to college.
Young's father, Felton, admitted that his son, a 6-8 swingman, was told that he was not likely to be among the first 14 players taken, the so-called "lottery picks." Crittenton and his family kept his projected spot in the draft private, although most analysts consider him no better than a late first-rounder.
Crittenton and Young now have almost two months to impress NBA decision-makers that they're worth higher picks. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is June 18, and both completed their spring semester class work during the first week of May.
Young went so far as to say he plans to attend summer school.
"I do think you can judge people by their actions, and he's going to school, attending class and plans to be here for summer school," Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "So we'll see."
Both players could use another year of college to polish their skills, particularly their shooting and defense. Then again, both could play their way into the lottery with strong showings over the next two months, too.
Young is NBA-ready in terms of athleticism. He can play at least two positions, and he made remarkable improvement from the beginning of the 2006-07 season to the end. Tech's coaching staff rebuilt his jump shot last summer, yet he still shot 48 percent for the season and 41 percent from three-point range. Given the value NBA teams place on potential, Young could shoot up the draft boards in the coming weeks.
Crittenton's situation is more a matter of timing. This year's NBA draft is thin on point guards, with only Ohio State's Mike Conley Jr. and Texas A&M's Acie Law III considered among the elite players at the position.
If Crittenton returns to school and comes out a year from now, he runs the chance of falling into a deeper class of point guards that could include North Carolina's Ty Lawson, UCLA's Darren Collison and Virginia's Sean Singletary. Singletary, like Crittenton, declared for this year's draft but will not hire an agent. He has hinted strongly that he will return to school for his senior year.
Should Crittenton and Young depart, it would solve a scholarship dilemma for Hewitt.
Tech will return a veteran and talented team with or without Young and Crittenton with three freshmen coming in this fall as well. Yet just one Yellow Jacket, senior guard Mario West, exhausted his eligibility last season, leaving Hewitt two scholarships short. If Young and Crittenton leave for the NBA, the shortage won't be an issue.
Then again, if both Young and Crittenton come back, Tech is likely to open next season ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation. The Jackets certainly will be one of college basketball's deepest teams, with 10 returning players with significant experience plus point guard transfer Matt Causey, who played one season at Georgetown and two years of Division II ball.
JOHNSON SYMBOLIZES TECH TALENT
On April 28, wide receiver Calvin Johnson became the first Georgia Tech player taken in the NFL draft's first round since 1998 and the highest pick (second overall, to Detroit) in school history.
Johnson all along was projected to go no lower than fourth overall, a number that would have equaled the school's previous best. The Boston Yanks picked Eddie Prokop fourth in the 1945 draft. Linebacker Keith Brooking was the program's most recent first-rounder, going to the Atlanta Falcons with the 12th pick in the 1998 draft.
While Johnson commanded all of the attention, four other Tech players were expected to be drafted. Two were considered first-day (top three rounds) possibilities, although they dropped to the second day. Offensive lineman Mansfield Wrotto was considered among the top 10 interior linemen in the draft. Cornerback Kenny Scott initially was projected to go as high as the third round.
The Yellow Jackets' other two likely draftees, linebacker KaMichael Hall and defensive tackle Joe Anoai, were projected as late-rounders.
Five draft picks would equal the school record under the draft's current seven-round format, which has been in place since 1994. Tech had seven players drafted in 1979, although four of those went in the eighth round or later. The 1963 team featured six draftees plus four more in the AFL draft but only three of those were taken in the first seven rounds.
This year's crop reflected the improving talent in the Tech program. Eleven players were drafted from 2002, when Chan Gailey took over as the head coach, through 2006. Two of the three players drafted last year, safety Dawan Landry and linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, saw significant playing time as NFL rookies. Landry started last year for the Baltimore Ravens and ranked fourth on the team in tackles.
Johnson made this year's class special, though. He was widely considered the best overall player in the draft, and the news that he, along with fellow first-rounders Gaines Adams of Clemson and Amobi Okoye of Louisville, smoked marijuana in college didn't hurt his status.
Johnson put the spotlight on the Tech program, and the Yellow Jackets could have an even stronger group of NFL-bound players this season.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler is a potential first-rounder, as are tailback Tashard Choice, defensive tackle Darryl Richard and offensive tackle Andrew Gardner. Both Richard and Gardner have two years of eligibility left but could be early entry candidates because of their combinations of size Richard is 6-4, Gardner 6-6 and talent. Durant Brooks likely will be one of the best punters available in next year's draft.
Other draft-caliber players entering their senior year this fall are safeties Jamal Lewis and Djay Jones, defensive ends Adamm Oliver and Darrell Robertson, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive linemen Matt Rhodes, Kevin Tuminello and Nate McManus, and kicker Travis Bell.