If Almond jumps, there will be no joy at Rice
By Andy Katz
Take a guess which school could be hit harder than any other if its early entrant decides to stay in the draft.
How about ... Rice.
Why the Owls? Well, no other school could have its postseason chances swing on the decision of one player. Most schools can absorb the hit, but not Rice.
Owls leading scorer Morris Almond declared for the NBA draft with the intent of testing the process. He isn't expected to sign with an agent, but he wants to see where he stands. You're probably not too familiar with Almond, but if you were watching Conference USA, you would have seen the junior average 21.9 points a game, grab 5.8 rebounds and lead the Owls to a 6-8 league record (12-16 overall).
The 6-6 wing isn't a lock for the first round, but through workouts and, potentially, the Orlando pre-draft camp June 6-12, he could entice someone to take a serious look.
If Almond returns to Rice, the Owls have a chance -- and we underscore chance -- to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1970.
"If he comes back, we've got a chance to be really good -- as good as we've ever been," said 14-year Rice coach Willis Wilson. "If he doesn't come back, it's a whole different ball game."
With Almond, Rice would return six of its top eight scorers and Wilson is confident that newcomers should add depth at the point and inside and the toughness that could make this his best Owl squad ever.
"The kid should dominate and impact winning at Rice before he considers this, but how high could he go? Well, at this stage, the draft is wide open and there are several spots for guys to play their way in, and he's a part of that group," one NBA player personnel director said. "He is a good athlete and can get you a bucket."
Wilson said NBA personnel have told him Almond is an unknown commodity, a player who needs to improve his ballhandling, passing and defense. But one undisputable point is that he can score.
He did that in bunches against C-USA champ Memphis, putting up 30 in an 84-79 loss Feb. 4.
"If he comes back and played like he did against us, then he'll put himself in a better position in the  draft," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "They were good with him. They'll have a chance with him back. Look, he killed us with 30."
The deadline to withdraw is June 18.
With Morris, Wilson said he could see C-USA having five teams in play for NCAA berths, with the Owls joining Memphis, Houston, UAB and UTEP.
"And there's no reason why we couldn't get three teams in," Wilson said. "If Morris comes back, we'll be really good because I like our chemistry, our bigs, and [we have] kids who can score and shoot."
The deadline to declare is still 10 days away.