A few months ago, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Indianapolis airport. Struck up a conversation with one of former Butler star Gordon Hayward's family friends.

The crux of the convo centered on Hayward's NBA future. My new buddy swore that Hayward would pass up a chance to go pro, regardless of where he was projected in the draft or how his team played in the NCAA tournament.

Plus, money wasn't an issue for his family, he told me.

I tried to warn him.

I told him that Hayward represented the typical NBA prospect in the 21st century: talented, young and raw. He was going to go pro. "You watch," I said.

Hayward has announced that he's not just testing the NBA waters ... he's all in, baby.

And in spite of my proclamation at that airport steakhouse, I'm still surprised.

He's the one guy in this draft who could preserve the outdated perception that staying in school for another year is worth it.

He's a good athlete with unique skills for a 6-8 forward. But he has a questionable motor. He didn't attack the basket in the national championship game the way a projected lottery pick should have. He's a solid shooter, but he could use a year to work on his midrange game. Plus, who will he guard at the next level? 

I still think he'll turn out to be a solid player in the NBA but he didn't have to leave now.

But Hayward, like the rest of the early entrants who have to make a final decision before the NCAA's Saturday withdrawal deadline, realizes that there's no reason to go back to school if a player has a reasonable shot of grabbing an NBA contract. 

His decision also challenges the socioeconomic boundaries that often come into play for early entrants. A lot of young college players leave school before their senior seasons because they need the money, their families need the money. 

As if college basketball hasn't experienced enough instability since the implementation of the one-and-done rule, the decision of a pro prospect to leave school, despite his team's opportunity to win a national title, might inspire others in a similar boat to drop college ball and go pro.

Hayward is not willing to wait another year to pursue his dream. Why? An extra year is not an extra year for NBA officials to find out what they like about a player. It's an extra year for those same squads to discover and magnify a player's flaws. 

Why did he go 2-for-11 (12 points) in the national title game? Why did Duke's Kyle Singler look like the better player that night? If he's this great shooter, then why did he hit just 29.4 percent of his three-point attempts during the 2009-10 season? 

Hayward won't give the NBA another year of college ball to seek those answers.

Iowa State's Craig Brackins was a potential lottery pick a few years ago. He'll be lucky to crack the first round this summer. Tulsa's Jerome Jordan wowed scouts at a LeBron James camp in 2008. Now, they question ... everything about him. Look for him to go somewhere in the second round.

Michigan State's Kalin Lucas took the Spartans to the Final Four last year, graced the cover of national publications and was considered a possible first-rounder after many figured he'd never get drafted because of his size. Lucas stayed another season and suffered a season-ending injury in the NCAA tournament. His draft stock is certainly in question as he enters his senior season and recovers from that crucial Achilles injury.

Thanks for the commentary, Myron. But what's your point? And what does this have to do with Gophers basketball? 


For the first time in Tubby Smith's tenure at Minnesota, the Gophers might have a few players who will consider their pro options before graduation.

Ralph Sampson III has the height, the skill set and pedigree to play at the next level. We're all waiting, however, for him to put it all together and add a little aggressiveness to his game so he can fulfill his potential. A big year by Sampson will certainly get the scouts talking even more than they are now. Plus, consider guys like Hassan Whiteside, Jerome Jordan and even, Cole Aldrich. The year before they hit the NBA radar, few knew much about them. It doesn't take much for a big man to raise his draft stock.

If Devoe Joseph adds some muscle to his frame and builds on his All-Tournament worthy performance in March's Big Ten tournament, he'll have a shot at the next level. Down the stretch, Joseph ran the team. I think he's a point at the next level, if he gets there. And I think the Gophers will play him at point guard next season, too. He needs to be consistent. But he has raw skills that were on display during that magical run in the Big Ten tourney.  He's not there yet, but he could be the next Big Ten guard to land on the NBA map.

Rodney Williams should be a different player next season. During a short stretch his freshman year, he lived up to the premature hype about his pro potential. He was a top-5 pick on nbadraft.net's 2011 mock draft at the start of the season. But he struggled throughout the year and didn't play much during the Big Ten season. He should've redshirted. But when he was on the floor, he pulled off some above-the-rim maneuvers that are hard to describe. He needs to prove that he can handle the ball, hit a 15-foot jump shot and defend on the perimeter. But he has all the makings of a poor man's Wesley Johnson. If he cracks the starting rotation, a possibility with Minnesota's lack of depth at small forward, and plays well during the Big Ten season, Williams will move up on a lot of real NBA draft boards.

Different people say different things about Trevor Mbakwe. A few days after he signed with the Gophers in 2009, he told me that he'd already talked to Tubby Smith about going pro after his junior season. Legal issues prevented him from playing last year and they might keep him off the floor next season, too, depending on the outcome of his trial in June. One person close to the program told me that he doesn't think Mbakwe will start for the team. Others think he'll lead the Gophers to big victories over their toughest opponents. The 6-8, 240-pound forward certainly has an NBA frame. If he showcases pro-level skills next year, he'll get NBA looks, too.

Save the emails. I'm not saying that Williams, Joseph, Sampson and Mbakwe will all go pro after next season. But they might have a shot at the next level, depending on their performances next season. They have the building blocks for pro careers.

Next year's Big Ten might change Saturday

The Big Ten has been one of the most successful conferences in college basketball in recent years. Since 2007, three Big Ten squads have repped the league in the Final Four.

Over the last two seasons, the Big Ten has sent 12 teams to the Big Dance.
But those achievements have not translated to the development/recruitment of pro-level talent.
The 2009 NBA draft featured two Big Ten products. Former Ohio State reserve B.J. Mullens (No. 24, Dallas Mavericks, traded to Oklahoma City) averaged 1.1 points and 0.8 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game for the Thunder during the 2009-10 season. Former Michigan State star Goran Suton (No. 50, Utah Jazz) signed a contract with a Russian team after the Jazz cut him.
Beyond Evan Turner, the Big Ten won't send many players to the next level via this summer's NBA draft. But that's not stopping a number of league hopefuls from considering the idea.
The Big Ten's early entrants who have not hired agents have until Saturday to withdraw their names and preserve their collegiate eligibility. Penn State's Talor Battle withdrew from the draft Friday, according to multiple reports.
The prospects' decisions will shift next year's race for the Big Ten crown. The choices of the players who have already decided to hire agents and stay in the draft matter, too.
Evan Turner (Ohio State): He's gone. No coming back. He has an agent. And he won't fall past No. 3. Smart decision for a guy who can't really raise his stock after earning national player of the year honors, even though he broke two bones in his back during the season. But Ohio State has one of the nation's top recruiting classes, which features one-and-done center Jared Sullinger. I still think the Buckeyes will finish in the top tier of the Big Ten, even though they've lost an extremely talented player.
Manny Harris (Michigan): Looks like he's going to hire an agent and forgo his college eligibility. Bad decision. Harris needs another year to add some beef to his frame and prove to NBA scouts that he has the leadership skills necessary to handle himself at the next level. He's a proven scorer. And Michigan will miss that. But the Wolverines were going into rebuilding mode with or without Harris. A solid recruiting class will have to contribute early to give the Wolverines a chance to stay away from the bottom of the Big Ten.
JaJuan Johnson (Purdue): Johnson doesn't have an agent, but I think he'll stay in the draft. I don't think he's going to raise his stock with another year in the Big Ten. He's faced the same question during his three years at the Division I level: Is he big enough to bang with post players in the NBA? His 6-10, 215-pound frame justifies those queries. If Johnson returns to school, the Boilermakers will have a key piece to a program that would have made a Final Four run in March with a healthy Robbie Hummel. Johnson gives the Boilermakers the size they need to contend with national powerhouses. If he leaves, the Boilermakers will have a huge void in the paint. Their nationally ranked recruiting class is based on the talented four-star guards they've signed (Anthony Johnson and Terone Johnson). I think the Boilermakers are preseason favorites to win the Big Ten title with Johnson, a top-5 team without him.
E'Twaun Moore (Purdue): He's in Johnson's boat. Declared for the draft. No agent. The 6-4 guard (he's really 6-2) helped the Boilermakers reach the Sweet 16 by averaging 15.0 points per game in three NCAA tournament games. He also showcased his leadership skills when Purdue lost Hummel to a season-ending injury. But I think he's going to make his decision based on what Johnson does. Johnson, Hummel and Moore returning for a fourth season would mean a possible Final Four run and more exposure for all three pro prospects. If Johnson leaves, the Boilermakers might struggle to finish among the top-5 teams in the Big Ten. Losing Moore to the NBA would certainly affect Purdue's chances of competing for a Big Ten title. But with a pair of four-star recruits entering the picture, some solid reserves and a great system, the Boilermakers would still be a very good team without him.
Mike Davis (Illinois): My gut says he'll return for his senior season. He's not ready for the next level. He's too inconsistent. Davis failed to hit double figures in 10 Big Ten games last season. But if he puts it all together and dominates during the 2010-11 season, I think he'll get drafted next summer. If Davis and Demetri McCamey wisely return to school and join a stellar recruiting class, the Fighting Illini enter next season as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten crown. Illinois has talented perimeter players. But that squad will need Davis' inside-outside game to compete at the highest level. With Davis (assuming McCamey comes back), the Illini will be a nationally ranked team that competes for the Big Ten title. Without him, they'll be a top-5 squad.
Demetri McCamey (Illinois): He should go back to school. But a couple of NBA teams are working him out in the final hour. He's the kind of sturdy point guard that the NBA adores today. He needs another year, however, to improve as a leader. Too many times, he didn't step up when Illinois needed him most. He also needs to work on his ballhandling. He finished 16 games with four or more turnovers last season. He's a great passer, but he'll need more than that if he wants to compete in the NBA. Good news for Illini fans: McCamey says he won't stay in the draft unless he's a first-round pick. He's not a first-round pick. So I expect him to stay. If he leaves, however, the Illini will lose the most critical player in their rotation. They have a lot of talent coming in and a lot of talent coming back. But McCamey runs the show and runs it well. Illinois would still finish in the Big Ten's top tier without him. With him, they're my pick to win the Big Ten title right now. That's based on Johnson leaving Purdue, a strong possibility.
Big AAU tournament this weekend
If you're looking for some offseason basketball to satisfy your craving for the game, then head to Bloomington Jefferson this weekend for the Sabes Invitational.
Hopkins' Joe Coleman competes for Howard Pulley Blue's 17s squad, although he might not play due to injury. Apple Valley eighth-grader Tyus Jones competes for HP Blue's 16s squad. Both players are big targets for the Gophers.

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