Shane Larkin narrowly missed winning ACC player of the year last season at Miami. [Al Tielemans/SI]
In a draft declaration season that's — for the most part — made a lot of sense, two more reasonable decisions were announced on Friday.
For Miami fans, the news isn't good; it appears guard Shane Larkin will be giving up his final two seasons of eligibility and heading to the NBA draft. Hurricanes' fans were hoping to keep Larkin in Coral Gables for another year, but the decision looks very solid on the surface.
Miami is losing a ton from this past season's ACC regular-season champs and the league is getting more difficult with the arrival of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame from the Big East. It was already going to be a lot of work for Miami to be an NCAA tournament team this season even with Larkin, and now the Hurricanes may be in rebuilding mode after losing a wave of seniors in addition to their star sophomore. Larkin should have been named the ACC player of the year this season (losing out to the excellent Erick Green of also-ran Virginia Tech) and made second-team All-America.
Given all of that, there wasn't anything more he was going to be able to accomplish that would really help him. Mix in Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart's surprise choice to bypass this draft, and that bumps Larkin up in the point guard pecking order. He now looks to be the third-best point guard prospect in the draft behind Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams. Larkin may end up being a first-round pick which also means plenty of guaranteed cash. While many people espouse that the second NBA contract is really the one players should be focusing on, when you're a sub-six foot guard looking at a stronger draft class next season, nabbing a guaranteed seven figures is a nice way to start your career.
The vibe is happier in Storrs, Conn., as UConn appears ready to emerge from its year of APR solitary. Those prospects were helped significantly by the announcement that point guard Shabazz Napier will be returning for his senior campaign.
Napier actually had a really good season last year, but the nation didn't really care since UConn was banned from all postseason participation. Now he gets to return alongside Ryan Boatwright in a backcourt that should be a handful for everyone (except Louisville) to handle in the new American Athletic Conference. With other key pieces back as well, the Huskies should be an NCAA tournament team in their debut season in the newly carved-out conference.
Napier was considered a second-round pick in this season's draft, so his immediate upside was capped much more than Larkin's. He can benefit from showing another season of well-rounded play and leadership and being able to show well in the conference and NCAA tournaments.
Napier's return is another nice boost to the increasingly juicy 2013-14 season, and it's also nice to see more and more players making smart decisions about their basketball (and personal) futures.