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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Five Programs Hanging in NBA Draft Limbo

Five programs hanging in NBA draft limbo

Andrew Skwara, Sporting News
May 9, 2006

This is the time for college coaches to take vacations, but many are having a tough time relaxing. Of the 63 players (not including international prospects) who entered the NBA draft early, most have not signed with agents - leaving the possibility they will back out before the June 18 deadline and return to school.

Five programs have the most at stake:

UCLA: No team has more to lose than the Bruins. If Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo take their names out of the draft, the Bruins will have the nation's best backcourt. By returning, the duo would add the talent needed to get back to the national title game. If the guards stay in the draft, getting back to the NCAA Tournament will be a lofty goal. Rising sophomore Darren Collison is the only returning guard who played significant minutes last season. The incoming recruiting class features two talented big men in James Keefe and Marko Spica, but only one guard. That guard -- three-star recruit Russell Westbrook -- isn't ready to play heavy minutes yet.

Memphis: Take out departing senior Rodney Carney (who coach John Calipari believes deserved consideration for National Player of the Year awards) and the Tigers still had one of the nation's deepest and most talented teams last season. Take out Shawne Williams and Darius Washington, Jr. -- who have yet to sign with agents -- and their Final Four dreams disappear. The Tigers have enough capable point guards to make up for losing Washington, but nobody on the roster can replace the versatile Williams, who creates matchup problems for nearly every opponent.

Texas: Rick Barnes can get back to the Final Four without center LaMarcus Aldridge (a top-10 pick) and possibly even Daniel Gibson. But it won't happen without P.J. Tucker. Barnes signed Rivals.com's No. 2 and No. 49 prospects, small forward Kevin Durant and point guard D.J. Augustin. But without Aldridge and departed senior Brad Buckman, the Longhorns desperately need the interior presence Tucker provides.

Villanova: Don't tell Wildcats coach Jay Wright that one player can't make a difference. If point guard Kyle Lowry stays in school, Wright will have the inside-outside duo needed to remain a contender in the Big East. Curtis Sumpter, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will be one of the top big men in the league. Lowry is poised for a breakout season with the loss of guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray, who combined to take more than 1,000 shots last season. The smart decision is for Lowry to come back for his junior season, show off more of his offensive game and increase his draft stock. The other decision leaves the Wildcats lacking their offensive catalyst, a floor general and their best perimeter defender.

South Carolina: It's tough to imagine Renaldo Balkman will stay in the draft. The junior averaged nine points a game last season, and the NBA has no place for 6-6 power forwards. If he stays in the draft, the Gamecocks won't be contending for an NCAA Tournament bid. They might not even get a chance to defend their two consecutive NIT titles. Balkman's stats aren't impressive, but he is the team's most valuable player and plays roles that no one else can fill. An energetic leader, he makes momentum-changing plays on both ends of the floor and is an underrated post defender.

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