It wasn’t that long ago that Gophers basketball fans weren’t used to players declaring for the NBA draft.
Since the vacated 1997 Final Four season, there were nine players who declared early, but only one from 2008 until last year when Amir Coffey tested the waters — and left.
Sophomore center Daniel Oturu did the same this year. Now Marcus Carr has followed his lead, only seven days later. Well, at least the early entry part of it.
Carr is not Coffey. He’s not Oturu. He hasn’t moved on from college just yet after putting his name into the draft, even though the end of his social media post sounds like that could happen.
“No matter what happens, my time here at the University of Minnesota has provided me with an unbelievable opportunity,” Carr wrote on Instagram. “And it will forever hold a special place in my heart.”
People inside the Gophers program are confident the talented sophomore point guard will be back next season, but it doesn’t ease the tension for fans. This season’s 15-16 record would have been much better had Coffey remained. Next season clearly would be better with Oturu. Next season without Oturu and Carr is probably not something coach Richard Pitino or fans want to imagine.
The bright side is Oturu is expected to be the first Gophers player drafted since Kris Humphries in 2004, but there is no guarantee he will be a first-round pick, especially if you look at the wide range of projections.
Oturu and Coffey, who went undrafted, might not have left early five years ago. And players such as Carr would not have tested the waters, but things are different now. The NBA G League route and two-way contracts like Coffey has with the Los Angeles Clippers are more appealing.
In 2018, the NCAA also made the draft process much easier for underclassmen to navigate by allowing them to hire agents and still retain their eligibility.
Players this year still aren’t used to that rule. Carr didn’t have to say Monday night that he’s keeping his options open by not hiring an agent.
It’s actually OK to have an NCAA-certified agent to help line up a combine invite, workouts and interviews with NBA teams. Coffey did it before eventually deciding he wouldn’t be back. That’s the normal process now. The NCAA deadline to withdraw from the draft was even extended from May 29 to June 3 (the NBA deadline is June 15) to give players more time to decide.
The seemingly erratic decisions being made by players declaring for the draft nowadays (81 players declared and only 40 were drafted last year) has to be more calculated this year in particular, though.
Carr, like many others leaving the door open to return to school, can’t work out for teams in the near future. But if he waits, and the NBA cancels the rest of this season, the workout opportunities completely evaporate. That’s why NBA folk are studying tape of Carr and other early entrants right now to see if they are worthy of consideration on draft night, whenever that might be. Reports are saying August or even September, which would be vastly different from last year.
Coffey declared for the draft last year in early April, and workouts already were starting for teams the following week. There was the Portsmouth Invitational, the NBA combine, the NBA G League combine all in April and May. By June, it was time to get through the NBA Finals and the NBA draft a couple weeks later.
Now all players — from potential lottery picks to those such as Carr hoping mainly to get on the NBA’s radar — are in limbo with the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Gophers faithful and fans of college hoops teams across the country are wondering if their top players are doing the right thing by declaring in this time of uncertainty.