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Thursday, May 04, 2006

UCLA, Texas, Memphis All OK With Waiting

UCLA, Texas, Memphis all OK with waiting

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

UCLA can take the hit. So can Texas and Memphis.

That's why Ben Howland, Rick Barnes and John Calipari can all deal with the limbo over the next six weeks while multiple players on each of their teams decide on whether to stay in the NBA draft.

"We're going to be good if we lose both," Howland said of sophomore guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. "If we get them both or one of them back, we'll have a chance to make another run."

Farmar and Afflalo declared for the NBA draft but neither signed with an agent. Farmar is the more likely of the two to be a first-round pick at this juncture -- and as a result, could stay in the draft. Neither is expected to accept, if invited, a berth in the Orlando NBA pre-draft camp in June. The advice being given is for them to work out for a handful of teams and see what kind of commitment they receive.

The reason for Howland's optimism this month, though, is that he feels fairly certain that the Bruins are set -- either way.

He thinks they would be set at point guard with sophomore-to-be Darren Collison, if Farmar stays in the draft, and at shooting guard with a healthy Josh Shipp (out with a hip injury for most of the season). Then add the development of rising sophomores Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Michael Roll and the arrival of late signee Russell Westbrook out of Lawndale, Calif., and Howland feels good about his already-returning talent.

"If both kids were guaranteed draft places then [they would go], but if not, I would hope that they come back and be more successful," Howland said. "I just worked out Luc and he's shooting the ball very well. Collison is an improved shooter. Russell had 51 in a high school game. We're going to be OK from a shooting standpoint."

Howland said this problem of players declaring and testing the process for two months is a good one to have.

"I'd rather be in limbo and have guys flirt with this and eventually be NBA players than not," Howland said.

UCLA, which always plays a national schedule, isn't waiting on the return of Afflalo and/or Farmar to determine its schedule. The Bruins already have booked games at West Virginia, versus Michigan, possibly with BYU and Boise State at home and maybe against George Mason in the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim. The Bruins also are in the Maui Invitational with Kentucky, Memphis, Georgia Tech, DePaul, Oklahoma, Purdue and Chaminade.

Like UCLA, Texas could again make a similar deep run in the NCAAs if its two underclassmen return. The Longhorns definitely are losing a third player -- center LaMarcus Aldridge -- after he signed with agent Arn Tellem. The other two -- forward P.J. Tucker and point guard Daniel Gibson -- still are testing the process.

Is Barnes sweating over their decisions? Hardly.

The Longhorns, who already were going to lose senior combo guard Kenton Paulino and classmate Brad Buckman, had freshman A.J. Abrams play the point for most of the Big 12 season. Then the Longhorns signed point guard D.J. Augustin, a highly coveted prep originally out of Louisiana who relocated to Sugar Land, Texas, after Hurricane Katrina. If you're looking for shooters to replace Gibson (if he departs), the Horns still return J.D. Lewis and picked up newcomers Harrison Smith and Justin Mason.

And even if Tucker bolts, there's a certain McDonald's All-American named Kevin Durant arriving in the fall to replace him (or play next to him). Durant is sure to give Ohio State signee Greg Oden a run for national freshman of the year if he gets as many touches as is possible next season.

The Longhorns already are banking on rising sophomore Connor Atchley to replace Aldridge by adding more strength and getting more run next season. And don't sleep on Mike Williams, a rising junior who finally found his place in the program in the final month of the season. Williams can offset a Tucker or Aldridge loss by being more productive in the post.
Like Farmar and Afflalo, Tucker and Gibson are being advised by their staffs against going to Orlando. They're more likely to go through workouts and see where they stand before making the decision by June 18 on whether to stay in the draft.

"I don't worry about what I don't have to worry about," Barnes said. "I realize the process they're going through. I just hope they make the right decision. Believe me, we'll have options. We'll be young, but we've been young."

Barnes won't speculate on particular lineups just yet but he did say he could see going with three guards as one option if Gibson and Tucker joined Aldridge in the NBA. Either way, the schedule will be rigorous again, with road games at Villanova and Tennessee, a game with Gonzaga in Phoenix, home against Arkansas, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in November and possibly a game with LSU in Houston.

Calipari is almost cavalier about the declarations of sophomore point guard Darius Washington and freshman forward Shawne Williams. He said he has plenty in the stable and NBA personnel have told him that the most talented player on the roster is still in check -- rising sophomore forward Robert Dozier.

Add Dozier to a core of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey inside to go with returning guards Antonio Anderson, Andre Allen and newcomer point guard Willie Kemp, and the Tigers seem to be loaded again.

Calipari wouldn't be surprised if Washington stayed in the draft but Williams might take a wait-and-see approach. Either way, Calipari has been of the belief that if you declare you should go after it without reservation and spend all of your time working toward going as high as possible. If they take his advice, both players likely would stay in the draft.

Calipari said without Washington and Williams, the Tigers wouldn't be preseason top-five, but could end up being in the 10-20 range. The Tigers are loading up on their schedule again with a road game at Gonzaga, the Maui event, games with Cincinnati and Ole Miss at home, and a few other options to come.

Elsewhere, San Diego State, George Washington, Iowa State and Connecticut all have multiple underclassmen on the early-entry list as well.

• One of SDSU's underclassmen (Marcus Slaughter) now cannot come back after he also declared after last season. The other, Brandon Heath, is likely to return.

• GW's Carl Elliott and Danilo Pinnock likely will get their names out to get some buzz and then come back.

• Iowa State will lose Curtis Stinson (he signed with an agent), but his backcourt mate, Will Blalock, almost certainly would return with an expected guarantee unlikely.

• UConn planned for the departures of its big three -- Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone -- by signing six players in the fall. Boone is the only one who could return since he isn't expected to sign with an agent yet.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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