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WASHINGTON, D.C. — College basketball still is a great place for players to get better and become NBA ready.
That was the message from Big Ten Conference coaches and players Thursday at the conference’s annual media day, when asked why so many of the players who declared early for the 2016 NBA Draft withdrew their name by the deadline and returned to school.
Twelve players from the Big Ten applied for early entry into the 2016 NBA Draft, and nine returned to school. Only Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis, Maryland’s Diamond Stone and Indiana’s Troy Williams stayed in.
Big Ten coaches see their conference, and college basketball, as a place that fosters talent, and a few pointed out coming back takes a lot of soul-searching and honest thought from the players.
“The NCAA and college sports in general have done a better job of trying to facilitate kids better and better — whether it be facilities, whether it be some of the new rules — and they better realize that still no matter how much money you make, once you go to the NBA or get out, it’s a real job now, and college isn’t as bad as you think,” said Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo. “There were some key guys in our league that I thought might go but stayed. In all honesty, I’m happy for those coaches, I’m happy for those players. I think we are trying to rush the process sometimes too much. But that’s the day and age that we’re in. So I think it’s good for college basketball. But I think it’s even better for the players.”
To a man, each coach asked about the process is heavily in favor of the freedom it gives players.
In 2011, the eligibility rules changed to allow players to declare for the draft without hiring an agent, but had to make a decision 60 days before the draft was held. That allowed players to test the waters and find out directly from NBA scouts and teams what they need to work on to become NBA-ready.
Ohio State Coach Thad Matta and Indiana’s Tom Crean both said the process can be eye-opening for some players. In years past, their players were relying on information from suspect sources to make their decisions. Matta said, “sometimes you see [players that are saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to have my cup of coffee in college,’ and do they actually get better? I don’t think most kids understand how good professional basketball players are,” and added the mass influx of European players makes it even more tenuous an endeavor.
“There’s so many people out there who portray themselves as decision-makers or answer people, and they’re really not — and I’m not either,” Crean said. “I think when you get guys who trust (the right information sources) and can see long term, that‘s the most important thing.
“You really just try to take it one person at a time, one case at a time and try to give them the best information they can possibly have and make the best decision.”
One of the players who did so was Iowa’s Peter Jok, and his coach, Fran McCaffery, couldn’t have agreed more with his Big Ten counterparts.
Jok came back with a list of things to work on from NBA scouts — “One of the things they told me I have to work on is my defense,” Jok said — and said the chance to hear directly from the source was invaluable.
Jok was joined as a Big Ten player who left and returned from the process by Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., Purdue’s Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan, Rutgers’ Cort Sanders, Ohio State’s Trevor Thompson, Maryland’s Melo Trimble and former Nebraska guard Andrew White III, who transferred to Syracuse.
The process Izzo, McCaffery, Matta, Crean and most other college coaches have tried to enable is that of college basketball not being seen as only a means to an end. Players returning from testing the waters as frequently as they have is a sign it’s working.
“I feel like that’s a lot of guys’ aspirations and goals,” Blackmon said. “It’s a win-win. We’re not losing if we come back to school, because we’re all playing at great programs. We’re not losing anything.”
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