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Monday, June 19, 2006's Luke Winn on Offseason Winners and Losers's Luke Winn Eventful offseason Five winners and five losers from a wild spring

June 19, 2006

With the deadline for underclassmen to stay in the NBA draft now passed -- and every top-flight prospect not named Aaron Gray opting to remain in the pool -- here are the five biggest winners and losers of the college hoops' offseason:

The Winners

1. Florida
The Gators pulled off the improbable, going from unranked to national champs a year after stars David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson departed. And then something more inconceivable occurred in Gainesville: Florida's nucleus of sophomore super heroes, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, decided the NBA could wait a year. And unlike Walsh, Roberson and Lee, these kids were essentially guaranteed first-round picks. One pro scout I talked to at the Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando estimated that had they jumped, Noah would have gone in the top five, Horford in the top 20 and Brewer in the top 25. They'll do that in 2007 instead ... after making a run at another national championship.

2. Pittsburgh
Mike Gray said his son, Aaron, didn't make up his mind about the draft until Sunday morning. "We talked about so much over the past two and a half days," Mike said. "[Aaron] would keep sleeping on [the decision], but we processed all the information and he decided he wanted to go back to Pitt and enjoy his senior year." The Panthers, no doubt, are rejoicing after hearing their 7-foot junior center's intentions. By returning, Gray vaulted Pitt into the preseason top 15 -- and became the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year following a junior season in which he averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. "It's a completely different team if I don't come back," Aaron said at the Pre-Draft Camp. With Gray and solid guards Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon -- a backcourt that may get better now that Carl Krauser is gone -- Pitt is a very dangerous team.

3. LSU
No one (at least no one who followed mock drafts) expected Tyrus Thomas to stick around. The Tigers' victory came on the same day T-Time declared for the draft, when the Big Baby sitting next to him at the podium, Glen Davis, said he was staying for his junior year. Davis was the '05-06 SEC Player of the Year after averaging 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds and said he's in "Terminator Baby" mode this summer, dropping more weight from his 315-pound frame after a disappointing showing at the Final Four. The Tigers' backcourt needed help with Darrel Mitchell graduating, and Marquette transfer Dameon Mason, an athletic, 6-5 scorer, should provide it. Suspended (and injured) point guard Tack Minor will resurface, too; he's a serious upgrade, skill-wise, from freshman Ben Voogd, but Minor needs to shed his team-chemistry-ruining reputation.

4. Kansas State
The Wildcats are in the W category, under the assumption that Bob Huggins' suspension of leading scorer Cartier Martin isn't long-term, because the supporting cast Huggins is bringing in could turn K-State into a bubble team. The controversial ex-Cincinnati coach said he simply "set out to fill needs" after being hired in March, but his first recruit was a bit more than that -- he was 7-foot-3 Jason Bennett out of Jacksonville, the nation's No. 10-rated center. "Who doesn't need a 7-footer?" Huggins joked. He also added Daytona Beach Community College shooting guard Blake Young (as well as Young's coach, Brad Underwood) and Bennett's teammate from the Miami Tropics AAU squad, 6-11 Luis Colon. Tyree Evans, a former Huggins recruit at Cincy, may join the team if he's cleared of charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts -- not exactly a "winning" addition in the upstanding-citizen department, but Evans was a prolific scorer in high school in Richmond, Va.

5. Kansas
The Jayhawks essentially did one thing since their first-round exit from the NCAA tournament: They added yet another McDonald's All-American to their stable (number five in the past two years, if you're counting), 6-foot-9 forward Darrell "Slim Shady" Arthur. He said he saw himself playing for KU in a dream the night before his decision, and therefore eschewed top choice Baylor to play for Bill Self. KU's real coup, however, was simply keeping a trio of future first-rounders -- freshmen Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright -- from bailing out of Lawrence too quickly. Now they get a shot to win the Big 12 title and perhaps make a trip to Atlanta (site of next season's Final Four).

Other winners: Duke (for keeping Josh McRoberts and landing five-star New Jersey recruit Lance Thomas), Nevada (Nick Fazekas pulled out of the draft), Seton Hall (new coach Bobby Gonzalez landed a stud backcourt in recruits Eugene Harvey and Larry Davis), Rice (future pro -- and leading scorer -- Morris Almond opted to return to school) and Colorado (retained guard Richard Roby for another season).

The Losers

1. Oklahoma
Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana, and as a parting gift left OU on probation until May 24, 2008, due to the 577 impermissible phone calls he and his staff made to recruits. But for new coach Jeff Capel, the real blow was that three fifths of the blockbuster recruiting class Sampson had signed for 2006 -- which was ranked in the top five nationally -- also decided to jump ship. Five-star forward Damion James committed to rival Texas. Four-star point guard Scottie Reynolds headed to Villanova. Three-star power forward Jeremy Mayfield opted instead for UAB. Oklahoma did keep a couple of solid recruits, Keith Clark and Tony Crocker, and landed top-flight power forward Blake Griffin for '07, but there's no massaging this one -- the Sooners did not have a pleasant spring.

2. The Big East
Gray came back, but how far will this league fall in its second season as a super conference? It failed to capitalize on a big '05-06, when none of its powers -- UConn, Villanova and, to a lesser degree, West Virginia and Pitt -- made it past the Elite Eight. Now the Big East is cleared out, with 15 of its biggest stars having graduated or declared early into the draft. Its rep will get a boost when Rudy Gay, Randy Foye, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Quincy Douby, Kyle Lowry and Josh Boone all go in the first round, but what's left now that they've departed? A duel between Pitt and Georgetown for the league title? Not nearly as scintillating as what transpired in Year 1.

3. Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights' dream scenario would have unfolded like this: 1) Talented East Coast recruiter Freddie Hill (the man who brought the star-guard quartet to 'Nova) is elevated to head coach. 2) Leading scorer Quincy Douby returns for another season of the "I Douby Lieve" campaign, becoming a first-team All-America who averages 28 points a game. 3) Stud New Jersey recruit Lance Thomas picks State U over Duke. 4) Douby and Thomas team up to lead the Knights to their first NCAA tournament since 1991.

Sadly, only No. 1 happened. Douby declared for -- and stayed in -- the draft, where he's looking like a solid first-rounder. With Douby gone, Thomas signed to play for Coach K. The Knights' revival, therefore, was put on hold.

4. N.C. State
The neighbors have plenty to look forward to: Duke kept Josh McRoberts and landed Thomas. North Carolina is bringing in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. And the Wolfpack? They're hurting. They watched as a perfectly good coach, Herb Sendek, vacated an uncomfortable situation in Raleigh to take the Arizona State job. And then their exceptionally promising center, Cedric Simmons, hired an agent and is staying in the NBA draft. Class of '06 recruit Larry Harris, a New York City shooting guard, bailed for Seton Hall, while coveted New Jersey forward Dan Werner switched his commitment from the 'Pack to national champ Florida. And after an uncomfortably long search, the coach N.C. State did hire, Detroit Pistons assistant Sidney Lowe, was far from the school's first choice.

5. Indiana
The Hoosiers wanted Mike Davis out. Mission accomplished. What happened after that was problematic: IU brought in Oklahoma's Sampson and absorbed his sanctions when the NCAA brought down the hammer on the coach in May. Now Sampson is banned from recruiting -- via in-home visits and making phone calls -- for his crucial first year. Star forward D.J. White decided to remain in Bloomington and be Sampson's star in '06-07, but sharpshooter Robert Vaden, a big guard who could spread out (and shoot over) defenses, followed Davis to UAB.

Lesser losers: Texas (lost Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker but landed Damion James to play alongside Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin), UCLA (Jordan Farmar stayed in the draft, but the Bruins have a solid backup at the point in Darren Collison and will also return Arron Afflalo), Memphis (lost Shawne Williams, which was semi-expected, and Darius Washington, but that may not be a bad thing, with Andre Allen and Willie Kemp on the roster) and South Carolina (star-in-the-making Renaldo Balkman would have had a breakout senior season, but he blew up at the Pre-Draft Camp and turned pro).

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