If Butler is going to follow up this year's memorable NCAA tournament run with another one next March, the Bulldogs may have to do it without their biggest star.
Sophomore forward Gordon Hayward, Butler's leading scorer and rebounder this season, revealed Tuesday that he will make himself available for the NBA draft but not sign with an agent to leave open the possibility to returning to school. Hayward is projected as a potential mid-to-late first-round pick if he doesn't pull out of the draft by the May 8 deadline.
"I have decided to declare for this June's NBA draft. At the present time, I have not signed with an agent," Hayward said in a statement issued by the school. "I'm looking forward to further exploring my options in the NBA, while finishing this semester strongly in the classroom."
The decision Hayward now faces is the rare scenario where there is no wrong choice. If he opts to stay in the draft, he'll receive a lucrative guaranteed contract as a first-round draft pick and have the chance at a long and productive pro career. If he returns to college, he'll be the face of a preseason top-five Butler team with a chance to win a national title and cement the school's status as a perennial juggernaut.
For Butler, the ramifications of Hayward's potential departure would be dire. Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored would probably be a good enough nucleus to win the Horizon League and return to the NCAA tournament, but the loss of Hayward and seniors Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes would be felt in every facet of the game.
Since Butler coach Brad Stevens won't truly be able to reap the recruiting benefits of this year's Final Four run until the class of 2011, it's critical for the Bulldogs to sustain that momentum next season.
With Hayward, that's almost a given. Without him, Butler's certainly more vulnerable.