The college basketball season ended on Monday night, ensuring that no one will have to hear a coworker or friend discuss a bracket as if it were a small child for the next 49 weeks. In the basketball world, the end of this season means several things, most notably the NBA's control of the American sporting landscape. Yet, for any team not good enough to make the playoffs, it's also a time to start preparing for June's draft.
Now that the season is done, several top college stars have decisions to make regarding their eligibility. Two of the biggest didn't wait, announcing their plans to declare for the draft on Tuesday.
The biggest news came from freshman Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, projected by many to be the first overall pick. Dave Skretta of the Associated Press has more:
The second-team All-American is expected to be a lottery pick in June after breaking the Jayhawks' freshman scoring record held by Danny Manning. McLemore averaged nearly 16 points for a team that went 31-6 and won a share of its ninth straight Big 12 championship.
''My mom, we talked, my family, talked to the coaches, and I made the decision that I'm going to enter the NBA draft,'' said McLemore, who had several family members on hand at Allen Fieldhouse. [...]
''Growing up, I wasn't the kid to be a fighter, like that, but coming to college, I had to mature and understand how I need to be to go play at the next level,'' McLemore said. ''I have to thank the coaching staff for that.''
The second major announcement came from junior Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. Here's Michael Marot of the AP:
Losing Oladipo was no surprise to those inside the Indiana program who watched the 6-foot-5 guard mature from talented freshmen into a refined star. NBA scouts have been so impressed with Oladipo's progression that many mock drafts now project him to be taken among the top six picks. [...]
The once overlooked recruit has improved each season in Bloomington, dazzling the nation this season with his athleticism and defense. He was a first-team All-American after finishing second on the Hoosiers in scoring (13.6), tying for second on the team in rebounds (6.3) and earning Big Ten defensive player of the honors. He can play above the rim, too, as evidenced when Oladipo delivered a spectacular game-sealing 360-degree dunk against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. This past season, he shot 59.9 percent from the field, 44.1 percent on 3-pointers -- both up from his sophomore numbers of 47.1 and 20.8.
McLemore and Oladipo weren't the only players to announce on Tuesday — Lousville hero Russ Smith and Providence wing Ricky Ledo. They join a list of already announced players that includes Pac-12 Player of the Year and Cal sharpshooter Allen Crabbe and freshman UNLV big man Anthony Bennett. More names could be added to that group soon, including Indiana center Cody Zeller and Michigan point guard Trey Burke, the National Player of the Year.
As always, many of these draft prospects will see their fortunes rise and fall over the next few months as teams evaluate and learn more about them through interviews and sustained exposure to game tape. At this time in 2012, Damian Lillard was considered the top point guard among a weak field and perhaps little more than a late-lottery pick. However, he impressed in workouts, shot up to the No. 6 spot, and is now the consensus choice as Rookie of the Year for the Portland Trail Blazers. Fortunes can change in an instant.
That goes for the draft as a whole, too. While this year's crop of likely draftees is considered fairly poor, we should remember that initial projections rarely prove accurate. For instance, consider the 2007 draft, widely considered to be one of the best in history at the time, ended up being very disappointing, with top pick Greg Oden becoming a legendary disappointment due to injury and only Kevin Durant, Al Horford, one-time risk Joakim Noah, and second-round afterthought Marc Gasol establishing themselves into top-tier talents. Our forecasts can be proven wrong in countless ways. McLemore and Oladipo's announcements are notable stories, but we're really just beginning to learn about their long-term viability in the NBA.