| | | | RPM | ABC | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY    

Tuesday, June 19
Updated: June 21, 5:44 PM ET

Trying to avoid the shaft in NBA draft
By Wayne Drehs

When Jason Gardner declared himself eligible for the NBA draft this spring, there were those who chuckled. Those who rolled their eyes. And those who scratched their heads, wondering what the 5-foot-10 sophomore from Arizona was thinking.

Jason Gardner
Arizona's Jason Gardner thought he was the best point guard in the country and wanted to test his NBA 'draftability.'
But in Gardner's mind, he was the best point guard out there. Better than St. John's Omar Cook, UCLA's Earl Watson and even highly touted Jamaal Tinsley from Iowa State.

Despite that confidence, though, something told Gardner, Indiana's 1999 Mr. Basketball, not to jump ship and immediately declare for the draft. Something told him to test the NBA waters, see where he might go and then make a final decision.

Now, two months later, that's proving to be the best move of all. After struggling at last week's NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago, Gardner said he realizes he isn't ready for the NBA just yet. And thanks to a rule that allows players to retain their college eligibility if they don't sign with an agent, Gardner is headed back to Tucson, Ariz.

"For me, this was what I wanted to do this summer, testing the market, seeing what all was out there," Gardner said. "It hit me in the head that I just wasn't ready and the better decision for me was to go back to school."

Seven of the other 51 underclassmen who declared in 2001 had until Wednesday to make a similar decision. Will they stay or will they go? Like Gardner, the others didn't want to make a rash decision. They want to be sure they are going to be first-round draft picks and earn the riches that come with a guaranteed three-year contract.

But it's hardly an exact science.

Fifty-seven players will be selected in the draft's two rounds. Fifth-eight underclassmen declared for early entry to the draft (four have since returned to school). Another 17 foreign players also are eligible. And there are 25-30 college seniors who are legitimate draft prospects. Do the math and there are roughly 100 players fighting for only 57 draft positions, and only 28 of which are in the guaranteed-money land of the first round.

"I don't get it," Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers said. "Probably 30 of them who came out should probably go back."

But exactly who should stay and who should go? Call it the search of one's NBA draftability.

Just how accurate is the information that Gardner and other underclassmen receive? In the dog-eat-dog world of the NBA, where many scouts, agents, owners and GMs are all watching out for themselves, who watches out for the players?

Their families? They are often blinded by the potential pot of gold that awaits their son on draft day.

The college coach? He might have ulterior motives as well, centered on the desire to bring his star back to school.

The NBA teams?

"Everybody has their own agenda," said Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic. "Believe me, when the smoke clears, every ball club has one thing in mind -- how can I make my team better.

"So the kid needs to have somebody trustworthy who is monitoring his situation. Someone who can read between the lines and give him some sound advice. Someone they can trust."

Troy Murphy, Josh Asselin
With the help of Irish coach Mike Brey, Notre Dame's Troy Murphy decided he had what it takes to be a first-round draft pick.
For Notre Dame forward Troy Murphy, that person was Irish coach Mike Brey. After Murphy declared, it was Brey who called NBA general managers and scouts, including Pacers GM Donnie Walsh, looking for feedback on Murphy's abilities.

What they discovered was that Murphy was projected as a "lock" to be among the top 20 in the draft. At that point, Murphy stopped the second-guessing and formally turned pro by signing with an agent. His situation was the opposite of Gardner's.

"We explored every avenue possible," Murphy said. "And based on all those conversations, I decided to take the next step."

Gardner's research proved more challenging. Aided by the help of Arizona coach Lute Olson, Gardner's family and a host of friends who currently play in the NBA, his draft forecast wasn't so clear. While some suggested he could have gone in the first round, others, he said, have told him there was a strong chance he may not get drafted at all.

"The draft is just so crazy," Gardner said. "You always hear stories of, 'I was supposed to go 17th, but I slipped to 30th,' stuff like that. You just never know for sure. So I listened to what everybody had to say and went with my gut feeling."

The league does its best to aid the process, offering a service where the abilities of underclassmen can be evaluated by a panel consisting of Stu Jackson, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball operations, Marty Blake, the league's director of scouting, and three team player personnel directors. The panel offers a concensus-based assessment of the underclassmen's abilities and projected draft prospects.

The service was started five years ago as a method underclassmen could get an accurate read on their draft status. After the panel meets, they send the individual a card informing him if he is projected as a first- or second-round selection. Some are told they could be lottery picks. Others are told they may not get picked at all.

Player Year College
Schea Cotton Soph. Alabama
Joshua Cross Junior Southern Illinois
Steve Eldridge Junior Henderson State
Andre Mahorn Junior Utah State
Paul McPherson Junior DePaul
JaRon Rush Soph. UCLA
Carl Boyd Junior California
Rico Harris Junior Cal State Northridge
Kendric Johnson Frosh. West Hills College
Albert White Junior Missouri
Peter Cornell Junior Loyola Marymount
Arthur Davis Soph. St. Joseph's
Randell Jackson Junior Florida State
Winfred Walton Soph. Fresno State
Marcus Johnson Junior Long Beach State
Damon Jones Junior Houston
Jason Osborne Junior Louisville
Jesse Pate Junior Arkansas
Scotty Thurman Junior Arkansas
Jamie Brandon Junior LSU
Rennie Clemons Junior Illinois
Melvin Robinson Junior Arizona State
Tony Scott Junior Syracuse
Marcus Webb Junior Alabama
"We want the players to make as informed a decision as they can, away from information they are getting from agents, people close to them, whoever," Jackson said. "We want them to know the truth, to get an accurate picture."

Gardner, who surprised Arizona fans in April when he declared for the draft, asked Jackson's committee for feedback, but then told his parents not to reveal what the league had said to him. He still has yet to open the envelope.

"I completely forgot about it," he said. "I guess now I could go take a look at it and see just how accurate they were."

Gardner's decision was ultimately made after his performance in Chicago, the only camp that allows the participation of underclassmen. For some, the yearly meat market stands as a coming out party for players with potential to become NBA stars. For others, it's a rude awakening.

"It's absolutely critical that every underclassmen who's invited gets there," Williams said. "The whole NBA world is there. They can measure who you are, what you have to offer and you get a frank, free evaluation. It can save some embarrassment on draft night."

That's just what it did for Gardner. The Arizona guard shot 6-of-27 with 10 turnovers and 12 assists in three games. Several NBA scouts and general managers pulled Gardner aside and tried to offer sound advice. Included in that group was Rob Babcock, the Minnesota Timberwolves' player personnel director.

"He can go back to the University of Arizona and be a leader of a rebuilding process there. He can be the main guy," Babock told the Arizona Republic. "Or he can risk it and play in Fayetteville (Ark.) in the developmental league. Because that's where he's headed. Even if he does get drafted, it's not likely he'll make the team."

Gardner listened to that evaluation, combined it with feedback from individual team workouts, friends, agents and the media to formulate his final decision.

"Nobody is really ready for the NBA," Gardner said. "You can always improve your game and make it a whole lot better. So going back to school can do nothing but better me."

Throughout the process, Gardner leaned on the experience of Al Harrington and Errick Barkley, a pair of underclassmen from last year's draft. Gardner worked out with both players in preparation for the Chicago camp. He also consulted with Sean Elliot, Damon Stoudamire and Jason Terry, all former Wildcats who now play in the NBA.

"There are some things I need to work on," Gardner said. "They gave me a battle plan, from ball-handling to footwork. Playing with all these older players helped me realize where I have to be."

And because of that, Gardner said he has no regrets and would recommend the evaluation process to underclassmen in the future.

"I was fortunate to have such a solid support group around me," Gardner said. "But going through all this, it makes you hungrier. It gives you added motivation to work on your game and raise it to the next level so when the time is right, I'll be ready."

Wayne Drehs is a Staff Writer for He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn .com.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

1 | 2

Prospects by:
Players | Teams 
Schools | Positions

Team Pages:

Lure of stardom can glitter like fake gold

High risks with drafting high school players

Math made easy for NBA rookies

By the numbers: NBA rookie salaries

Vitale: Early entries must be using new math

 Hall of Famer Julius Erving looks at the difference of players developing their games in the NBA compared to college.
wav: 735 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Dick Vitale is trying to figure out why so many high school basketball players are skipping college for the NBA.
wav: 4009 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6