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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

SI's Luke Winn on the Six Teams Who Stand to Lose the Most From Early Entry

(I'm sure your all going to be shocked to learn that Memphis is one of the six - ed.)

Prospects are proceeding with caution, at an 84 percent clip. Fifty-three of the 63 NCAA-produced early entrants in the NBA draft have yet to hire an agent following the April 29 deadline to declare. Which means that the slate of available pro prospects -- released today by the league -- is hardly set in stone, and the real parties in limbo between now and June 18, the deadline to withdraw from the draft, are the college teams who have stars sitting on the NBA fence.

The departures of already-represented underclassmen such as Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, LSU's Tyrus Thomas and Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge were foregone conclusions in our early look at the 2006-07 landscape. But three schools in that initial top 10 -- UCLA, Memphis and Texas -- are now in jeopardy of taking less-expected hits to their Final Four hopes. Here are the six teams, including the Bruins, Tigers and Longhorns, with the most at stake in the next month and a half.

6. George Washington

Declared without agents: Junior guards Carl Elliott and Danilo (né J.R. Pinnock)

A letdown from the Colonials' 26-2 regular season in 2005-06 is expected. The above duo of experienced guards will determine the size of that slide -- slight or significant. If Elliott and Pinnock suit up for their senior seasons, GW likely challenges Xavier for the Atlantic 10 title and a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. If not, it becomes the Maureece Rice show at the Smith Center ... which could be entertaining, but that production, at best, ends in the NIT.
The return scenario is looking likely: Both players, at present, seem to be (smartly) taking advantage of their "free junior pass" to test the draft waters, build a bit of free pub for the future, and withdraw. GW coach Karl Hobbs, who also remains in Foggy Bottom (partly due to the fact that his stock was hurt by his recruitment of prep-school players with questionable academic histories), expects Elliott and Pinnock to be back. NBA scouts -- see the developing pattern here -- don't consider either guard as a major 2006 draft prospect. Their value is as a late second-rounder (Pinnock) and an undrafted free agent (Elliott).

While Pinnock, a 6-foot-5 athlete who led GW in scoring last season with 14.5 points per game, could eventually play in the league, Elliott's best shot at a pro career may be in shoulder pads: During last season, Hobbs said he would phone NFL GMs -- specifically the Ravens' Ozzie Newsome -- on Elliott's behalf if the stocky guard wished to follow the road of Antonio Gates, Jai Lewis and Ed Nelson and become a gridiron convert.

5. Rutgers

Declared without an agent: Junior guard Quincy Douby

When the Big East was purportedly the nation's toughest conference in 2005-06 (although it had no reps in the Final Four), the Scarlet Knights managed to quietly finish 7-9, just behind the tourney-bubblicious pack of Seton Hall, Syracuse and Cincinnati. If Douby, the league's leading scorer at 25.4 points per game, returns -- keeping Rutgers' entire starting lineup intact -- the Knights would (gasp) be among the better teams in the Big East. And an NCAA tournament trip is precisely what new head coach Fred Hill needs to kick-start his Jersey revival. Hill is a respected East Coast talent hawk -- as an assistant under Jay Wright at Villanova, he recruited the nucleus for the Wildcats' rise to national prominence -- but there's little allure for Jersey or NYC prep stars to sign on with a school that hasn't been to an NCAA tournament since 1991.
One more season with Douby helps get Rutgers over the hump; without him, the Knights are hardly a force. Unfortunately, as more NBA teams catch on to Douby's spectacular scoring ability in the coming weeks, there will be fewer and fewer concerns about his skinny frame ... and he'll get enough assurances of first-round-dom that he'll stay in the draft.

4. Memphis

Declared without agents: Sophomore guard Darius Washington, freshman forward Shawne Williams

D-Wash, although presently sans agent, is gone for good. At least that's how it seems. He announced his intentions on his Web site on April 24 -- "I truly appreciate the support my friends, family, coaches and the fans have given me over the years and hope they will stand by me as I enter the next stage of fulfilling my lifelong dream" -- and hasn't given any indication that the decision is flexible. Unfortunately (for Darius), his personal Web site has an unmoderated message board, which has given numerous fans a venue to post less-than-supportive remarks about Washington's pro plans. Even more unfortunate is that NBA scouts seem to agree -- one scout we talked to said Washington is a second-round pick at best.
Washington, however, is not the big reason Memphis makes this list. His turnover rate (on 24.5 percent of possessions, according to kenpom.com) was higher than his assist rate (22.2 percent) in '05-06, and the Tigers have one semi-experienced point guard, Andre Allen, waiting in the wings and talented local prospect Willie Kemp on his way in. It could, quite possibly, be addition by subtraction, a la Florida improving once Anthony Roberson bid Gainesville adieu.

The big deal is Williams, a 6-9 forward who's the kind of star Memphis needs to make another deep tournament run (and perhaps earn a second straight NCAA No. 1 seed out of the C-USA). Williams' grandfather told the Commercial Appeal that Shawne's magical "limit" for staying in the draft was the top 20. Williams already has first-round stock, and one NBA scout told SI.com he expects Williams to be safely in the top 20 by June. That isn't great news for Memphis. It may need to cultivate a new star.

3. Villanova

Declared without an agent: Sophomore guard Kyle Lowry

The four-guard era at 'Nova is over, to be replaced by ... what, exactly? Either a more traditional, balanced attack led by Lowry on the perimeter and rehabbed forward Curtis Sumpter in the post, or, if Lowry leaves, a team that's heavily reliant on Sumpter and hopes its lone remaining guard, Mike Nardi, can do more of the scoring. The former team could still be a Big East force, the primary challenger to Georgetown for the league title, perhaps; the latter won't exactly strike fear in opponents' hearts.

Lowry, if he remains on the Main Line, has a chance to be an All-America point guard. At many points during the '05-06 season -- despite being overshadowed by the Wildcats' two decorated senior guards, Randy Foye and Allan Ray -- Lowry was the most dominant player on the floor. A sub-6-footer, he is a fearless penetrator who's lightning-quick off the dribble.

The more Lowry weighs his options, however, the more he may lean toward staying in the draft. One NBA scout told SI.com this week that Lowry would likely be the point guard on his team's board behind UConn's Marcus Williams and ahead of both UCLA's Jordan Farmar and Kentucky's Rajon Rondo. That would make Lowry somewhat of a first-round lock. The scout indicated that he expected Lowry would flourish in a faster-paced NBA environment, as opposed to the slower offense preferred by 'Nova.

2. Texas

Declared without agents: Sophomore guard Daniel Gibson, junior forward P.J. Tucker

Consider the strength of the lineup on the left versus the lineup on the right:

Probable 2006-07 Texas lineups Gibson/Tucker return Gibson/Tucker head to NBA PG: A.J. Abrams, So./D.J. Augustin, Fr. PG: A.J. Abrams, So./D.J. Augustin, Fr. SG: Daniel Gibson, Jr. SG: Justin Mason, Fr. SW: Kevin Durant, Fr. SF: Kevin Durant, Fr. SF: P.J. Tucker, Sr. PF: Mike Williams, Jr. C/PF: Mike Williams, Jr./Connor Atchley, Jr. C: Connor Atchley, Jr./Matt Hill, Fr.

The left side challenges Kansas for the Big 12 title and is a viable Final Four pick. It's a lineup of four McDonald's All-Americans (Augustin, Gibson, Durant and Williams), and the fifth, well, he's only the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year (Tucker) who racked up point-rebound double doubles in six of UT's final seven games. The right side still has a three-hamburger star rating, but no clear leader (Durant, by default?) and very little experience -- at least not enough to be considered one of the nation's elite teams.

Tucker and Gibson are both keeping their options open; according to the university they're still working out on campus and completing the spring semester's academic requirements in order to maintain eligibility for the 2006-07 season. Tucker would be the more likely player to stay in the draft, due to the fact that this is considered a weaker draft class than 2007's and his stock may be at its peak, since he averaged nearly a double double on the season. He's currently a second-rounder, but one NBA scout said opinions of Tucker are widely varied and he has the potential to rise into the first round with a big showing in Orlando.

Gibson, on the other hand, would be making a mistake by keeping his name in the draft. He very well may be a better pro prospect than Tucker, but Gibson's present stock is at its nadir. The same scouts who raved about him last summer were consistently disappointed in his point-guard skills during '05-06, and turning pro now would be a massive risk. The wild card in the decision process is that with the arrival of Augustin in Austin -- a true point who expects to have a hand in running the show -- will D-Gib get the proving ground he needs?

1. UCLA

Declared without agents: Sophomore guards Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar

The Bruins won't crash and burn if Afflalo and Farmar depart; by subbing Darren Collison (their speedy backup point) and Josh Shipp (the injured scoring star) into the backcourt, UCLA still makes the NCAA tournament in 2007. No one in Westwood, however, cares about simply making the NCAA tournament, especially when they know what's possible with the sophomore duo joining Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the lineup: the school's 12th national championship.

To put it nicely, Afflalo is far more desirable to UCLA at this point than he is to the NBA. He left a miserable last impression in the minds of NBA scouts with a poor (3-of-10 shooting, average defensive) showing in the title-game loss to Florida, and his stock fell accordingly -- enough to make it unwise for him to have declared for the draft at all. To the Bruins, however, he is their rock -- on a team riddled with injuries in '05-06, he played the most minutes (83.3 percent), had the highest offensive rating (an efficiency of 115.0) and was the best lock-down perimeter defender (a nonstatistical trait that may be paramount to the other two in coach Ben Howland's mind).

Farmar could rationalize a decision to stay in the draft; he has similar draft stock to 'Nova's Lowry, which would put him in the first round (but not the lottery). Despite taking a few too many shots (on 30.2 percent of UCLA's offensive possessions), Farmar had one of the highest assist rates of any point guard in the nation (37.6) and was the team's lone bright spot against the Gators, scoring 18 points in the finale. But he could take a lesson from title-game opponents Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford and put the pros on hold in favor of another taste of the Final Four. The 2007 draft will be much lighter on point guards, anyway. And that, Jordan, seems like a win-win situation.

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