Terrence Jones' decision to stay in school was very much emblematic of the way the 2011 draft class has evolved, making this possibly the strangest year we've evaluated. The NBA lockout pushed a significant number of top underclassmen prospects back to their respective schools, rather than risk spending too much time outside of an organized basketball structure. That in turn pushed plenty of fringe prospects solidly up the board.
Nineteen-year-old Terrence Jones saw his draft stock decline every single month, to the point that there was an outside chance he would fall out of the lottery altogether. Rather than try to strike while the iron was cold, and then possibly not have the benefit of summer league and training camp to prepare for the rigors of his first NBA season, Jones showed tremendous faith, both in himself and head coach John Calipari, to come back for his sophomore year and try to improve on his weaknesses and not just rest on the laurels of potential.
While there's plenty of debate as to whether Jones will be drafted higher in a now loaded 2012 class than he would have this year, it's never a good idea for a player to turn pro simply because he feels like he
While plenty of prospects in this draft class have seen their stock rise simply by virtue of others withdrawing, Harris has actually improved standing by being more closely evaluated since the season ended.
One of the youngest players in this draft at age 18, Harris was a top-10 recruit who played arguably the most consistent basketball of any freshman in his class this year -- not an easy thing to do considering the tumultuous circumstances he was in. As scouts revisited his season and reports on his outstanding work ethic circulated, Harris' name slowly rose up draft boards, to the point that he may now be a lottery pick.
Ultra polished and extremely mature, Harris always had the feel of a one-and-done prospect, which made it no surprise at all to see him decide to keep his name in the draft.
After consecutive runs to the NCAA Championship game, it's tough to say what a successful senior campaign would look like on the part of Shelvin Mack. On the contrary, he's exactly the type of player who could fall off the camp completely with a ho-hum senior season: an average athlete whose resume relies heavily on his collection of clutch shots and improbable wins. Regardless of where he gets drafted -- anyone's guess at this point -- Mack has earned himself a chance of making a roster and carving out a niche in the NBA after being selected -- something that no one could have guaranteed him had he elected to return to Butler.
NBA talent evaluators who were not familiar with the name Reggie Johnson a few months ago are now. They know he was the second-best per-minute rebounder in college hoops this year, but were also very much aware that he was a few years away from contributing in the NBA, meaning they'll track his progress and see how he improves down the road. The last thing a project like Johnson could afford is to spend an extensive amount of time outside of an organized basketball structure, which is why returning to Miami -- where he'll now play for a renowned coach featuring a system far more likely to emphasize post play -- was clearly the best move he could have made.
Jackson faced the highly unattractive option of returning to a loaded ACC conference with absolutely no help alongside him to avoid a painful season. Boston College lost their top four scorers outside of Jackson, and is not bringing in a strong freshman class to make the transition easier -- something that can't be very appealing to a converted combo guard who needs to show off his merits as a distributor to ease scouts' concerns. Now almost certainly a first-round pick after the tidal wave of announcements of players electing to return to school, Jackson's decision got easier by the day.
Projected by many scouts to go undrafted, Gibbs decided to accept the challenge of returning to a depleted Pittsburgh squad, where he'll have the opportunity to show that he's a better athlete and shot-creator than he was able to show in his somewhat limited role this year. Unless he was done with being a student-athlete and was absolutely ready to start his professional career (likely in Europe), staying in the draft did not make very much sense.
Holloway did about as much as he possibly could have for Xavier this season --winning A-10 Player of the Year honors -- but still didn't garner a great deal of buzz from NBA scouts due to his underwhelming physical tools. It's debatable how much that will change next season, but a prospect of his nature surely would have benefited from a deep NCAA tournament run, something he'll now have the chance to accomplish.
Hopson has been a hot name in scouting circles since his days as a McDonald's All-American, but he has seen his stock remain in neutral due to his incredible swings in production and lack of efficiency. Still, in a weakened draft class, particularly at his position, a 21-year-old freakishly athletic wing player with legit size and scoring ability could definitely appeal to a NBA team that finds itself underwhelmed by its options. He's the type of prospect who could cause a GM to forgive all of his negatives with one sensational private workout. That would, at least, give him a chance to carve out a NBA career for himself, rather than return to a weak Tennessee squad that could be due for harsh NCAA sanctions for the actions of his former coach.
Morris decided to forgo the opportunity to lead a rapidly improving Michigan squad next season, despite not being a guaranteed first-round pick at this stage. He might have had the toughest decision of any player, seeing as he virtually came out of nowhere this season and probably could have upped his stock a lot more with another productive year. How this will ultimately be judged will depend heavily on where he ends up being picked, but it's tough not to feel for Michigan fans who were finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Very rarely does a player's early entry decision cause a former NCAA Championship head coach to retire from sheer disappointment, but that's exactly what seems to have happened. Sophomore Jordan Williams was not a highly touted recruit, but was able to put up solid individual numbers on a depleted team this year. His size and girth make him a prospect NBA teams will want to look at in workouts to see how his production might translate against better caliber athletes. But where he'll end up getting picked is still anyone's guess.