- College Basketball - Will he or won't he? Early NBA exits changing recruiting game

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 Thursday, November 2
Coaches willing to gamble on early exits
 By Andy Katz

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mark Gottfried is banking on a lesson being taught during the Tide's exhibition against Global Sports next Wednesday.

And he's not talking about learning anything on the court.

He wants his players to check out the players for Global Sports: Schea Cotton, James Cotton and Jimmie "Snap" Hunter.

Darius Miles
Darius Miles never played for St. John's, but his interest in the Red Storm helped Mike Jarvis draw up a top-five recruiting class.

All three former early-entry candidates are expected to be on the Global Sports roster. Only James Cotton was ever drafted, but in the second round by the Seattle Sonics. He didn't stick. Schea Cotton, who played at Alabama last year, declared following his sophomore season. He went undrafted. Hunter, who left Memphis after a year to go to NAIA Life University, declared after his junior year. He was left alone on draft day, too.

Gottfried needs to only direct his point to his lesser known, albeit talented, sophomores like Rod Grizzard. Freshman Gerald Wallace isn't going to end up on an exhibition tour if he declares for the draft after this or any other season.

But therein lies the fine line. This spring alone, at least 30 high-profile and marginal college/high school players are in positions to declare for the draft. And it puts college coaches in a tough recruiting bind.

Do they recruit a player knowing he'll leave before matriculating? Do they mess with a player like Schea Cotton who may leave after a year on their campus, even if he's not ready?

The answer appears to be, "Yes".

"But you need to find out as soon as possible what their intentions are," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said. The Bruins have stopped recruiting Compton center Tyson Chandler after it became apparent that he will likely declare for the draft.

"You need to be direct and find out what the long term plans are," Lavin added. "The pursuit of a player who will turn pro may cost you valuable time and energy. You have to be efficient with your time."

Still, coaches are likely to try and sign a Wallace or even a Cotton out of high school, knowing these are players who are both a lock to go to the NBA (Wallace) and marginal, but thinks he has a chance to declare (Cotton).

"I'd rather have this be an issue of whether or not a guy like Gerald would leave than not have him at all," Gottfried said. "I'm glad that it's my problem to worry about. So many things can happen where he might fall in love with college."

But colleges can also get the pub from signing a player like Darius Miles. St. John's knew it probably would never see the player drafted fifth in last year's NBA draft play for the Red Storm. But Mike Jarvis parlayed his signing into a top-five recruiting class. The Red Storm were able to use a high-profile signing like Miles, and technically still can, all season.

"College coaches should still recruit players because you never know what will happen," Wallace said. "Mario Austin, my summer teammate, thought about leaving until the final day but he still went to Mississippi State."

So, far, flirting with the NBA and choosing college hasn't caused resentment from Alabama teammates -- even if Wallace only stays one year.

"You just make it the best year possible," Grizzard said. "He's coming to college to work on his game. I appreciate that it can help me with my offense and make me a better player. If he leaves after this year then that's fine because it's expected. If he does, then I'll just see him later on (hopefully in the league)."

Alabama has so far struck a balance, similar to DePaul, in signing players who could end up as pros -- both marginal, and at least one furture star. DePaul has done the same after losing Quentin Richardson to the NBA after his sophomore season this past spring, but have enough returning to make it back to the tournament.

Like Gottfried, who has a commitment from top-five point guard Maurice Williams for next year to possibly replace Wallace's star quality, DePaul's Pat Kennedy brought in two high-profile recruits in point Imari Sawyer and forward Andre Brown to supplant Richardson's marquee status.

"You've got to have a balance," Gottfried said. "You can't sustain a program if you have too many guys leaving the program. That's why Michigan State won it with seniors. You need some four-year players."

Alabama assistant Johnny Jones said he actively looked for four-year players, even when he was an assistant at LSU and the Tigers had Shaquille O'Neal. He's doing the same with the potential of losing Wallace. Losing a player early, even after one year, is simply part of recruiting.

"Sometimes you recruit JC players to fill a need for two years," Gottfried said. "When you sign one of the top two players in America, sometimes you'll get him for the front two years instead of the back two."

The only problem now for college coaches is trying to weigh whether or not a player will leave against the new five-eight rule. Coaches are only allowed to sign five players in a given recruiting class, eight in two years. Losing a player after one year, or even two, especially if it's unexpected, could throw off the numbers for the recruiting class.

Coaches have to be prepared for the loss of a player even more now then when Georgia Tech lost Stephon Marbury after one year and struggled to recover. Signing marginal pro players, like the three who will play for Global Sports, is simply part of the gamble of whether or not they'll leave school early.

"So many coaches get fired every year that it forces them to make decisions based on short-term things," Gottfried said. "That's not what college basketball is about. But unfortunately, that's what it has become."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at

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