Picking North Carolina to get to the Final Four is rarely a stretch.
The Tar Heels look like strong contenders in 2008-09 after getting good news Monday, the deadline for underclassmen who had not hired agents to withdraw from the NBA Draft. Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green all decided to return to college, joining consensus national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, who never declared for the draft.
Ellington and Lawson, both guards, have two years of eligibility left while the forward Green will be a senior next season. Ellington averaged 16.6 points a game last season while Lawson averaged 12.7 points and 5.1 assists and Green averaged 11.5 points.
Lawson was 39th nationally in offensive rating (123.0) and 50th in assist rate (32.9). Ellington was 79th in offensive rating (119.9)
That means all four players who scored in double figures for the Tar Heels last season--when they went 36-3 and lost to Kansas in the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament--will be back.
Hansbrough, a forward with one year remaining, averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds while ranking 22nd in offensive rating (125.2), 44th in free throw rate (70.5), 54th in offensive rebounding percentage (13.0) and 88th in turnover rate (12.7).
“I‘m very pleased with their decisions because I get to coach them for another year,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I feel very strongly that of all of these young men will eventually be NBA players. The timing was just not exactly right at this point.”
Others who withdrew before the deadline were Texas guard A.J. Abrams, Arizona forward Chase Budinger, Alabama guard Ronald Steele, Memphis forward Robert Dozier, Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo, UAB guard Robert Vaden and Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson.
Abrams, who has one year of eligibility left, averaged 16.5 points as the Longhorns went 31-7 and lost to Memphis in the final of the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional. He was second in the country in turnover rate (7.2), 63rd in offensive rating (120.8) and 79th in percentage of minutes (87.1)
Abrams will be counted on heavily after sophomore guard D.J. Augustin decided to turn pro. He will be one of two double-digit scorers returning along with guard Damion James, who averaged 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds as a sophomore while finishing 34th in defensive rebounding percentage (24.6).
“I received some positive feedback and constructive criticisms from the NBA teams that I worked out for, all of which should help me next year when I go through the process again,” Abrams told the Dallas Morning News.
Budinger averaged 17.5 points and 5.1 rebounds while ranking 74th nationally in percentage of minutes (87.3) as a sophomore as the Wildcats went 19-15 and lost to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAAs. Budinger will take on an even bigger role because Jerryd Bayless has decided to enter the draft after one collegiate season.
That leaves Arizona with only one other player who scored in double figures last winter, Jordan Hill. Hill averaged 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds as a sophomore while ranking 39th in effective field goal percentage (62.0) and 80th in defensive rebounding percentage (22.3).
“The opportunity to play for Coach [Lute] Olson in my mind best prepares me to have a successful NBA career,” Budinger said. “I want to enter the NBA with a great certainty of my future potential and believe the chance to develop further under Coach Olson enhances that opportunity.”
Steele, expected to be on many preseason All-America lists, sat out last season after having surgery on both knees but figures to be a key figure for the Crimson Tide, who were 17-16 in 2007-08, now that leading scorer Richard Hendrix has decided to stay in the draft. Forward Alonzo Gee, who will be a senior, will the top returning scorer; he averaged 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“I’m really excited about coming back my senior year to play,” Steele said. “After praying about this and talking with my family, my coaches and people within the NBA, I feel like I made the right decision for me. I enjoyed the process. It’s been a valuable learning experience for me and it was a lot of fun. Now, I’m concentrating on Alabama and I’m looking forward to coming back to Alabama and hopefully having a great senior season.”
Dozier will be the leading returning scorer for the Tigers as he averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds and was 88th in the country in percentage of blocks (7.0) for a team that went 38-2 and lost to Kansas in the national championship game. Guards Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose decided to enter the draft as underclassmen.
Dozier said he is returning for his senior season “with the mindset that next year’s team can be even better than we were a year ago, knowing that a lot of that will fall on my shoulders.”
Pargo will return for his senior year after leading the Bulldogs with averages of 12.1 points and 6.0 assists last season while ranking 42nd nationally in assist rate (33.4), as Gonzaga went 25-8 and lost to Davidson in the first round of the NCAAs.
Gonzaga will also have three other double-digit scorers back: junior guard Matt Bouldin (12.0), sophomore forward Austin Daye (10.5) and senior forward Josh Heytvelt (10.3). Daye was 23rd in percentage of blocks (10.0) and 54th in defensive rebounding percentage (23.5).
“Playing in the NBA is definitely a goal of mine and one I am confident I can accomplish,” Pargo said. “But, at this time, I think it is in my best interest to return to Gonzaga for my senior year. I am excited about our team next year and expect that we will accomplish great things as a group.”
Vaden, who was told by NBA scouts he would have been a second-round pick, will return for his senior season after averaging 21.1 points and finishing 22nd in the country in percentage of shots (33.5) for the Blazers, who went 23-11 and advanced to the second round of the NIT. He will join a fine nucleus that also includes junior forward Walter Sharpe (14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds), senior forward Lawrence Kinnard (11.1 points, 6.8 rebounds) and senior guard Channing Toney (10.5 points).
“I felt like I could come back this year and improve on what I’ve already improved on in my game and be a first-round next year,” Vaden told the Birmingham News.
Hudson led the Ohio Valley Conference and was fifth in the nation in scoring with a 25.7 average last winter as the Skyhawks went 17-16. He also averaged 7.8 points and 4.5 assists, and ranked among the Pomeroy leaders in percentage of possessions (32.9, ninth), percentage of shots (33.9, 20th), percentage of minutes (91.0, 29th) and percentage of steals (4.3, 37th).
Hudson will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Marquis Weddle, who averaged 17.1 points last season.
“I think the uncertainty of his position in the second round helped Lester make his decision,” Tennessee-Martin coach Bret Campbell said. “It was Lester’s decision all the way. In the end we wanted what was best for Lester. By coming back for one more season he positions himself much better for a future NBA draft. Also getting his degree played a role in his decision.”
Hoosiers, Sampson Plead Their Case
Indiana and former coach Kelvin Sampson had the chance to speak their peace to the NCAA Committee on Infractions last week in Seattle. The Hoosiers must wait to see what sanctions might be placed on their program, now headed by Tom Crean, who was hired away from Marquette to be the head coach.
Sampson and former assistant coach Rob Senderoff are accused of four NCAA violations regarding phone calls to recruits. Sampson was sanctioned for the same offense while at Oklahoma.
The committee is not expected to announce its decision until at least late July, giving it time to prepare a detailed report, and university officials had little to say after the hearing. Sampson, now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, left the hearing without being seen by reporters.
“We realize this is a very serious matter and are grateful to the members of the Committee of Infractions for their vital role in conducting these proceedings,” Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan said. “We look forward to the adjudication of this matter in the future, and until the committee’s decision is rendered, I will have no further comment regarding the matter.”
One person who did speak following the hearing to the media was former Hoosiers assistant Jeff Meyer.
“I have from day one acknowledged the mistakes I made, and I've taken personal responsibility for the wrongdoing,” Meyer said. "I apologized to Indiana University for my involvement in the matter, however limited.
“For 29 years of coaching college basketball, I have endeavored to do my work well and to do good work within the NCAA rules. If I have an opportunity to continue coaching, I will do so better prepared to mentor student-athletes, to work with young men and to work with a compliance staff, having gone through this very painful and humiliating experience.”
Academic Progress Issues
If it were up to Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, the college basketball season would be shortened and confined to one semester. However, Hewitt, a member of the NCAA’s basketball academic enhancement group along with Syrcause’s Jim Boeheim and Arizona State’s Herb Sendek, a panel chaired by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, is also a realist.
"That's not going to happen," Hewitt told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution before testifying in front of the Knight Commission, a college athletics watchdog, in Washington this week. "There are too many things involved. I could see maybe moving it a couple weeks."
The most recent data released by the NCAA showed that 63 percent of all Division I student-athletes who enrolled in 2000 graduated in six years or less as opposed to 62 percent of students overall. Men’s basketball players graduate at a 61 percent rate compared to 67 percent for football players and 66 percent for baseball players.
According the NCAA, 49 percent of all African-American student-athletes who enrolled in 2000 graduated within six years compared to 39 percent overall.
“The African-American graduation rate, to quote [President and CEO of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport] Richard Lapchick, is scandalous,” Hewitt said. “If a basketball coach has a 36 percent graduation rate, we're screaming murder. My thing is let's take a big-picture look at this.
“We're trying to improve men's basketball, not that it's in total disrepair.”
Hewitt said the committee realizes it's not just players who leave college after one season who are unlikely to graduate but even those players who use all four seasons of eligibility before becoming pros. The graduation rate of junior college recruits is also problematic.
“We want to see if we can move kids as close to graduation as possible in 3 1/2 years,” Hewitt said. “And we're studying transfers. There is a lower level of graduation with junior college transfers.
“Right now, you can't sign them until the fall of their sophomore years. One of the thoughts we're throwing around is allowing colleges to sign junior college players after their freshmen years and maybe even have them on your campuses for a couple (summer) classes before they go back for sophomore years."
Future Final Four Bids Out
Phoenix is the only one of 10 cities that made bids this week to host a Final Four from 2012-16 that has never hosted or is scheduled to host the event. The games would be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium and hosted by Arizona State.
The other cities bidding include Atlanta (Georgia Dome), Dallas (Cowboys’ new stadium), Detroit (Ford Field), Houston (Reliant Stadium), Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), Minneapolis (Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome), New Orleans (Louisiana Superdome), San Antonio (Alamodome) and St. Louis (Edgar Jones Dome).
Detroit will host the Final Four next season and Houston will be the host in 2011.
Hardwood Series Matchups Set
Defending national champion Kansas highlights the second annual Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series by visiting Arizona on Dec. 23. The two teams met last season in Lawrence with the Jayhawks winning 76-72.
The rest of the matchups: Colorado at Stanford on Nov. 29; Oklahoma State at Washington, UCLA at Texas and Southern California at Oklahoma on Dec. 4; Arizona at Texas A&M on Dec. 5; Baylor at Washington State and Oregon State at Iowa State on Dec. 6; Kansas State at Oregon, Nebraska at Arizona State and California at Missouri on Dec. 7 and Texas Tech at Stanford on Dec. 28. All of the matchups this year are return games from last season.
The Pac-10 held a 7-5 edge in the series last season.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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