The countdown to April 29th begins today. What is the significance of that date you ask? April 29th is the last day an underclassman can declare for the NBA draft. June 18th is another important one. That is the last day an underclassman who has not hired an agent can remove his name from the NBA draft and return to college.
The majority of underclassmen who declare remain in the draft. Some of the ones who wish to return aren't able to do so easily. Do you remember the situation surrounding Kentucky center Randolph Morris? Morris declared after last season and later removed his name to return to the Wildcats. Later, questions arose about his remaining college eligibility. Apparently some NBA teams paid for expenses while he worked out prior to the draft. After initially being declared a professional by the NCAA, Morris was allowed to return to Kentucky midway through this season. Consequently, I believe this season most who declare will remain in the draft.
What will the Horns look like next season?
We will take a more in depth look at our incoming class soon, but for now let's examine our returning players. Obviously, the Horns were very thin this season. For most of the season we played with a seven man rotation adding Mike Williams and AJ Abrams to our starting five. Brad Buckman and Kenton Paulino were the only seniors on this year's team. So, we could return five of our top seven players along with JD Lewis, Craig Winder, and Conner Atchley off the bench. That is a pipe dream.
Coach Barnes does a good job of gathering information for his underclassmen who wish to leave school early for the NBA. Lamarcus Aldridge almost declared for the NBA after his senior year before ever coming to Texas. It is also understood that Aldridge would have bolted after last season if he wasn't forced to miss the second half of the season with a hip injury. Most pundits and draft experts expect Aldridge to be a top five pick in the June NBA draft if he makes himself available. Players projected to go that high would be wise to cash in. I fully expect Coach Barnes to tell LA just that. The chances are beyond good that we have seen the L Train play his last game in burnt orange and white.
Chances are much smaller that junior PJ Tucker or sophomore Daniel Gibson will jump to the NBA. Gibson has been emphatic about staying in school for the last few months. After the OU game, DGib said he would return and gave the same answer after our season ending loss to LSU on Saturday. That said even with his erratic offensive play and streaky outside shooting, Gibson is still listed as a first round pick on some mock NBA draft boards.
Tucker's situation is much less definite. I will not be shocked if he follows Aldridge's lead to the NBA. Tucker does not have a true position in the NBA though. At only 6'5", he matches the heights of NBA shooting guards more than NBA power forwards. Tucker has succeeded at the college level around the basket. He uses his 7' plus wingspan to shoot over taller defenders and bruises defenders with his 235 lb frame. He won't have an advantage in length or girth at the next level. Tucker won't be tall enough to play power forward not does he handle the ball well enough or have a consistent enough outside jump shot for even the small forward position. Even with those limitations, Tucker is a winner. There is no way Texas wins 30 games or makes a run to the Elite Eight without him. Tucker also just completed a season as the Big 12 player of the year. He could improve his ball handling and add a three point jump shot to his game by returning but he could also do the same thing in the NBA and get paid while doing it. According to the Austin American Statesman, the Bulls and Spurs have already expressed interest in PJ. Last, Tucker earned over a 3.0 GPA last semester but his affinity for school is not strong. Tucker says he is coming back but I'm not so sure.
So, we currently have ten players on scholarship. Two are seniors leaving possibly as many as eight returning. Aldridge is all but gone though. Tucker and Gibson may also bolt too if they are assured of being drafted in the first round. Returning seven letterman to go with our incoming class of six and possibly seven (Darrel Arthur) is the most likely scenario.