WASHINGTON – When the NCAA announced a more player-friendly process for early entry into the NBA draft, plenty of people associated with the sport considered it a move that would hurt the college game.
Given more time to consider the decision, more players would opt to put their names on the early entry list and seek information about their draft status. And once players are on that list, it’s tough for them to take it off with the possibility of going pro so tantalizingly close, or so the line of thinking went.
Well, Year 1 of the new NBA draft era wasn’t so bad for the Big Ten. Lots of players did declare for the draft and participate in the process, which now includes enough time to take part in the draft combine in mid-May and 10 days after that to make the final decision. Six players from the Big Ten chose to withdraw from the draft and return to school.
“It continues to strengthen the league,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said Thursday. “It’s s been considered one of the best for decades, and I think we have that type of talent again. It also shows the value of the experiences of going to our schools and being in our league, to see players who look at it then come back.”
One of Gard’s players, Nigel Hayes, went through the process, withdrew his name and is now the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year. In fact, half of the 10 players named to the preseason all-conference team earlier this week put their names on the early entry list only to later withdraw it.
This was his first time going through an NBA draft cycle as the head coach at Wisconsin, but he’s been involved as an assistant before.
“We need to make the process better,” Gard said. “It was a good step, but there are a lot of things that we can improve with the process. There’s too much ambiguity maybe between the NCAA and the NBA. There wasn’t enough communication, that I found. I was going to one and then to the other and we needed to have a one-stop shop for the information. When is the exact date? How do you get out? Does it need to be FedEX’d in or can it just be an email or a statement? There was some confusion at times. I was just trying to make sure Nigel didn’t get boxed into a corner and miss a deadline.”
Given more time to mull the decision and talk to representatives from the NBA, players like Hayes, Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan were able to make a more informed decision. Any of these guys might have felt like they had to leave their names in the pool of available players with the previous situation, which included far less time to gather information and did not include the ability to go to the combine.
“I think it’s good because there is no gambling anymore,” said Illinois senior Malcolm Hill, who did not go through the process. “By the time the new process is over, you know what you know. It’s easier to make the decision. Hopefully we can get to the point like baseball where you can get drafted and still go back to school.”
That would be a drastic move, but Hill is not alone in feeling that way. Why can’t players, like in major league baseball, enter the draft, retain amateur status by not signing with an agent and decide to return to their college team if they are not drafted or are unable to agree on a contract with an NBA team?
For now, at least, the new rules do give the players more power over their futures. Take Indiana junior James Blackmon Jr. He missed more than half of last season with an injury and was still hurt during the information gathering window. If he had less time to collect opinions and information on where he might be drafted, Blackmon might have just taken the chance and stayed in the draft.
“It was different for me because I was hurt and couldn’t show what I could do, but a lot of teams knew what I could do and gave me a lot of input,” Blackmon said. “I met with a lot of teams, and it was a great experience. I learned about how I can improve.”
While some might see the change as a potential pitfall for NCAA coaches because they end up spending more of the offseason dealing with an uncertain roster, it can actually be a positive development. The coaches can help their players through the process, and, in a way, help themselves as well.
“Coach really helps his players during the NBA draft process and really cares about their future, not just the success they help him achieve” is a strong message to send to recruits and can help land future players that are talented enough go through the NBA draft process themselves one day.
“I think everybody assumes that if you have a really good player put his name that you’re spending every night praying for that entire of period that he comes back,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s not the case. I have a guy like Peter Jok, who I love and who came to play for me. If he puts his name in, I want to help him as much as I can, counsel him, inform him.
“He’s worked as hard as he possibly can to be an NBA player. I want to help him reach his goal.”