Obviously, Tristan Thompson's departure was entirely expected -- entirely imminent. No skin off my back, for I saw this coming a million miles away, like an older brother on Christmas Eve who knows that his younger siblings are needlessly sweating whether "Santa Claus" will be making an appearance.
Yup, that was me. I knew Thompson was gone as soon as he arrived.
Oh. Right. I did say that back in January, didn't I.
I did, and worse, I believed it. Making the Thompson news exactly the opposite of expected for me. It was a true punch to my gut, eh?
Call me a fool, but I got my hopes up. I really, truly believed that Tristan Thompson would return for a sophomore season. I heard the earnestness in his voice, admired the studiousness with which he approached school, and bought in completely when he professed to be committed to playing with fellow Canadian Myck Kabongo. In actuality, I was the naive kid on Christmas Eve who thought his mother really was going to buy that Red Ryder BB Gun.
And now all the presents are open and I'm left hoping for a miracle. Hey, Ralphie's Dad bailed him out. Maybe Thompson will bail us out and withdraw from the draft.
More likely, everyone else was right: Don't bother getting your hopes up with these uber-talents; you'll shoot your heart out.
There's been plenty of speculation and consternation about why Texas seems to be particularly snakebit with the early entrants to the NBA Draft. Some suggest that the kids can't wait to get away from Rick Barnes, but the evidence doesn't support that conclusion. For one, as professionals the departed keep coming back to Rick Barnes and Austin in the summers. For another, top talent keeps rolling in, and if these players truly didn't get what they wanted out of their experience at UT, word would get around quicker than a TJ Ford drive down the lane. Rick Barnes couldn't keep snagging the talent he is if the players were leaving unsatisfied.
Others wonder whether Rick Barnes isn't doing enough to actively convince these kids to stay. On that count, Barnes may be guilty, but it's not clear to me that this is actually a crime. Think back to when Bob Stoops lured Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham back for senior seasons; that seemed like a crime, and very nearly was. That both were able to recoup from their injuries was merely fortuitous. And if Harrison Barnes or Jared Sullinger or Perry Jones suffers a catastophic injury next season, we'll all be dumbfounded, wondering why they passed on millions of dollars for a second season of college hoops. (Especially Jones: what the hell?)
Speaking of which, whatever motivated those other players to return, their decisions all but forced the hands of Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson, two players who would have had a much tougher decision to make with a full draft class stocked with all the top eligible players. As is, the decisions of so many other kids to stay moved both players into the Top 15. It's one thing to be Harrison Barnes, who was a Top 5 player this year and will be next year, and quite another to be Tristan Thompson, who is in this depleted class a Top 10-12 player, and next year could slip to being a Top 25 player, depending on how he performed and who entered the 2012 NBA Draft.
Simply put, the NBA Draft stars aligned for Hamilton and Thompson, and to whatever extent they were genuinely contemplating a return, this particular situation is awfully difficult to pass up.
As for Joseph, well, most expect him to return, and that's certainly correct considering his (lack of) readiness for NBA basketball, but I wouldn't consider it a lock. In this draft class, he's got a decent shot at getting drafted in the second round, and even if not, it's not out of the question for him to sign a free agent contract to play D-League ball. And if that ain't the NBA, well, it's also not a terrible place to develop your game. They are, after all, professionals. They practice a whole lot more than the 20 hours per week college players are allowed. The decision for Joseph is whether he thinks he can develop into a first round pick. If he does, he should stay. If he just wants to get started on developing and play his way into the NBA, he's better off in the D-League.
The bottom line is that Hamilton is gone, Thompson is almost certainly gone, and Joseph is a coin flip. I have to agree with TheElusiveShadow in his excellent post about one-and-done players: I have no regrets and don't for a second agree with anyone who bemoans our predicament because we've been hit with so much bad luck with respect to early entrants.
I will never, ever forget sitting in the Erwin Center watching Kevin Durant play college basketball in burnt orange and white. The run we went on with TJ Ford was as good as it gets without winning it all. And watching this group of Longhorns develop from a fringe Top 25 team into a legit contender was one of the most satisfying experiences of recent memory.
It's worth it. It's worth it to see these guys play, to see what they can accomplish, and to dream of what they might become.
Even when they don't.