Eight potential first-round picks have already kept their names out of the NBA draft, the latest being Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, and it's only May 12. Just two of Scout.com's top 20 recruits have yet to pick a school, and one of them, New Yorker Lance Stephenson, seems to be a player few teams actually want. The one coach who's been rumored for an NBA job, Louisville's Rick Pitino, has vowed he's staying put. Much of the college basketball landscape for 2009-10 has come into focus at a surprisingly early date.
The power to alter the upcoming season now lies largely in the hands of three players -- we'll call them the landscape-changers -- and here's where they stand:
The past two college hoops offseasons have been defined by the strange doings of point guards in North Carolina: Last year it was Ty Lawson, who pulled out of the draft after a small legal dust-up, and went on to lead the Tar Heels to a national title. This year it's Wall, a high-schooler who had his own run-in with the law (a breaking-and-entering charge) and who has fan bases from at least three schools hanging on his every word, due to the fact that he's a Derrick Rose-level game-changer.
Wall's camp has yet to do any official shrinking of a list that's seven schools deep (Baylor, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Miami, Memphis, N.C. State), but his advisor and former AAU coach, Brian Clifton, told SI.com on Monday that it would be "accurate" to assume that the race was now between Duke, Kentucky and Miami. Wall, who's the nation's No. 1 point guard prospect and could be the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, would give the Blue Devils the point guard they sorely need, since neither Nolan Smith, Elliott Williams or Jon Scheyer are perfectly suited for the position. The Wildcats, although they already took a commitment from five-star point guard Eric Bledsoe, could become a title contender with a starting lineup that includes Wall, Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, would be an NCAA tournament team and put themselves on the map as a destination for future, elite recruits if Wall goes on to be the program's signature alum.
Clifton, who met with Wall and his mother on Monday night, gave some insight into the schools' respective situations, with the most interesting comments being about Kentucky, which has publicly been considered the front-runner since John Calipari jumped from Memphis on March 31. Wall has confirmed that he's still considering the Wildcats after they accepted Bledsoe's commitment, but, Clifton said, "The knee-jerk reaction, and justifiably so, would be to take a minute of pause to look further into it. Because I can't imagine, to get a player like Eric Bledsoe, that [Kentucky] would tell him, we're going to recruit over you immediately and not play you very much as a freshman.
"There had to be some assurances made to him about being able to share the ball, that would inspire him to commit despite the possibility of John still coming there. ... So we have to revisit that situation and make sure it's going to be great to have two of the top four point guards on the roster at once."
By revisiting it, Clifton said hopes to talk to Calipari as well as Bledsoe's camp, to see what their expectations are for next season at Kentucky. (Bledsoe has been quoted as saying that he and Wall can coexist on the court, and that, "I'm going to play my position either if [Wall does go to UK] or he don't.") Said Clifton, "It's definitely not a deal-breaker, but I'd be remiss in my duty as a guy that's helping John and his family if we don't explore it fully."
It has been speculated that Duke is Clifton's preferred destination for Wall, in part because of rumors that Clifton hopes to become Wall's agent next season, and Duke would be the place where he'd be best insulated from outside suitors. Clifton denied this to SI.com last month -- "I'll be in John's life in some capacity, but it won't be as his agent," he said -- but Clifton does, definitely, like Duke.
He cited the fact that the Blue Devils had a clear opening at the point-guard spot as a benefit, and said that, of the teams Wall was considering, Duke had the best chance of competing for a national title next season, a fact that he felt should not be taken lightly.
Meanwhile, Miami, which was initially thought to be a darkhorse in the crowded Wall race, is a legitimate option, according to Clifton. He said the wealth of young talent Frank Haith has assembled -- from incoming freshman shooting guard Durand Scott to electric sophomore swingman DeQuan Jones -- as a selling point, as well as the chance to play in the ACC. "And being in Miami is significant in and of itself," said Clifton, who intends to move with Wall if he opts for an out-of-state school. "If you're going to be away from home for a year, or two years, or four, there are much worse places to be."
As for now, Wall is in Raleigh, and in limbo. His decision may not come until after the NCAA's spring signing period, which concludes on May 20. Unlike early entrants into the draft -- like our next two landscape-changers -- mega-recruits have no real deadlines.
Deacon Zero is keeping his options open: Rather than shipping off to a training facility immediately after throwing his name in the draft (a la UCLA's Jrue Holiday, a similarly agent-less underclassman who headed to Florida's IMG Academy in April), Teague stayed on campus through the end of his sophomore year in order to keep his academics in good standing for a potential third season at Wake. Before leaving for his hometown of Indianapolis this past weekend, Teague said he met with Demon Deacons coach Dino Gaudio, who told him that "the door is still wide open" for a return.
Wake's status as an elite team hinges on his choice. If Teague stays in school, Wake should contend for the ACC title and be a top-10 team. He and sophomore Al-Farouq Aminu, a likely 2010 Lottery Pick, would be the league's best inside-outside duo. If Teague remains in the draft and senior Ish Smith takes over the point, Wake will likely fall into ACC's second tier behind Duke, North Carolina and Clemson.
The consensus among NBA personnel sources SI.com spoke with is that Teague is a first-round lock if he remains in the 2009 draft pool. While his skills as a distributor seem to be in question, his shooting and driving abilities are not. (He averaged 18.8 points and hit 44.1 percent of his threes last season.) As one source said, "[Teague] has a chance to be a Lottery Pick now. He's in the 10-17 range, but he could still go back to school, prove he can be a pure point guard, and then become a top-10 guy in 2010. Because after John Wall, the point guard class is thin next year."
Teague was set to begin workouts this week with Ed Schilling, the Indianapolis-area trainer who worked with Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook before the 2007 draft, and the Wake guard said his main goal was "to prove that I really am a point guard, and that even though we fell off at the end of the season" -- losing in the first round of the ACC and NCAA tournaments -- "I'm still the player they saw at the beginning of the season." Neither Teague nor his father, Shawn, a former guard at Boston University, said they've set a definite bar, stock-wise, that Jeff needs to meet to remain in the draft. But, Shawn said, "If there was a guarantee somewhere in the middle [of the first round], it would be very hard to say no."
While sophomore teammate Patrick Patterson was giving a staying-in-school press conference on Monday in Lexington, explaining why he'd passed on near-guarantees he'd be a first-round pick, Meeks was in his high school gym in Norcross, Ga., training with his AAU coach, doing the work that he hopes will get him into guaranteed-contract range. Multiple NBA sources SI.com spoke with viewed Meeks, who averaged 23.7 points and hit 117 threes as a junior, as a non-guaranteed second-rounder. The main reason scouts cited was that he's viewed as "too one-dimensional," merely a high-volume long-range shooter rather than a complete scorer.
Whether that label sticks will likely determine whether or not Meeks remains in the draft. His father, Orestes, likes to point out that Jodie -- who began last season off the media radar and finished as a second-team All-America -- has a history of being misevaluated: "Out of high school, there were people who didn't think he could play," Orestes said, "and I remember clearly, some of them said he's a slasher who can shoot the mid-range shot, but not a good three-point shooter. Think about that! Now, you hear just the opposite."
Patterson was the player with higher draft stock, but Meeks' decision matters more to the Wildcats' SEC title (and Final Four) hopes: Although they'll have an embarrassment of riches in the post -- in Patterson, a hyper-efficient, 6-9 power forward; 6-9 senior role player Perry Stevenson and five-star recruits DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton -- they won't have a killer perimeter scorer unless Meeks returns. And there are hordes of Kentucky fans who'd love to see what Meeks could do in new coach John Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion offense -- a spread-out scheme that Meeks said "I could definitely see myself playing in."
Meeks said he's committed to seeing the draft process through -- he has an invite to the NBA's Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago -- but he's also only 18 credit hours away from a degree, and because his father is an executive at IBM in Atlanta, the family doesn't have pressing money concerns that would push him into an ill-advised decision. "I love playing at Kentucky," Jodie said, "If this doesn't work out, I have no problem coming back. ... and if I'm in the second round, it'll be a no-brainer to go back."