June 20, 2007

Where Have You Gone, Omar Cook?

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In between watching reruns of The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno and trying to figure out how Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer made so much money at the box office, you may have missed a critical piece of NBA Draft news. This past Monday was the deadline for players who had not yet signed with agents to withdraw from the draft. Some players rolled the dice and stayed in the draft, while some apparently missed frat parties and D.P. Dough and decided to return to college. Whether to stay in the draft can sometimes be the most important decision a basketball player will ever make. History is littered with players who have made the wrong decision and paid the price.
Many of these poor decisions have been high school players who misguidedly decided to skip college. Korleone Young is a frequently cited example of this group. The prep star from Kansas decided to go pro and was drafted in the second round by Detroit (possibly because the Pistons thought they were drafting Don Corleone). He played three total NBA games, and then bounced around in the CBA, Australia, China, Russia, Israel, Agrabah and Fern Gully. Another example is Ndudi Ebi, drafted in 2003 by Minnesota. He played two seasons and 19 total games in the NBA, and is probably currently working as a Lackawanna County volunteer sheriff’s deputy. After the most recent collective bargaining agreement, though, high school players are no longer allowed to jump to the pros, so it is impossible for prep stars to make this foolish decision.
Now, the players who might leave too early all play at least one year of college. The discussion of college players who should have played more years should begin and end with Omar Cook. Cook was a New York City prodigy and was hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow New Yorkers like Stephon Marbury and become an NBA star. Cook played one year at St. Johns University, where he was nothing short of spectacular. He led the Big East in assists and broke Mark Jackson’s school record for assists in a game. Cook was named third team All-Big East during his one season in college. Despite his passing prowess, though, Cook had a bit of a problem with his shot, shooting 36 percent from the field. Cook could have stayed in college and worked on his shooting, trying to develop himself into an all-around point guard. Instead, he thought he was ready for the pros. NBA teams disagreed. The Orlando Magic drafted him in the second round and immediately traded him to Denver, where he was cut. He then made stops in Portland and Toronto, but is now out of the NBA.
So let’s look at some of the players making decisions about staying in this year’s draft, and see if they made the right choice or if they’ll be playing in Boise in four years.
Jeff Green, Georgetown – Declared for Draft – This was an easy decision. Green’s draft stock is rising, and he now could go as high as No. 5 to Boston (although that would be way too smart of a pick for the Celtics). When he wanted to be, Green was an unstoppable force. His game-winning shot against Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament will go down in Hoya lore (along with John Thompson’s towel). With center Roy Hibbert coming back to Georgetown, the only reasons to stay in D.C. would be to compete for a national title and watch Dimitri Young and the last-place Washington Nationals. If Green had stayed, the Hoyas might have been the favorite to win the title, along with Memphis and UCLA. But this was a smart move. Green will be a good pro, and will probably go in the top-10.
Jason Smith, Colorado State – Declared for Draft – I mentioned Smith last week, mostly because if the New Jersey Nets, my favorite team, select Smith, I will have a mental breakdown like Entourage’s Billy Walsh on the set of the fictional Medillan. Smith clearly could work on his bulk and defensive skills, but his draft stock probably will never be higher than it is now, considering that he plays for Colorado State and I dare anyone to actually name the Colorado State mascot. Right now, he is king of the unknowns and some top-20 team will take a flier on him, hoping that he will put Charles Barkley in his “Fave Five” and learn how to rebound.
Spencer Hawes, Washington – Declared for Draft – While Kevin Durant and Greg Oden led their teams as freshmen to bigger and better things, Hawes led Washington to an early offseason. The Huskies did not even make the NIT and probably could have been beaten by the Washington Generals. In addition, there are serious concerns about Hawes’s lack of defensive skill or quickness. The new NBA devalues unathletic centers, and Hawes might become the next Todd McCulloch. Despite this though, some idiot GM will roll the dice on Hawes’s potential in the top-10, so it is probably smart for him to stay in the draft before the naysayers actually get a chance to dissect his college game (or lack thereof).
Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech – Declared for Draft – This offseason has been as sorrowful for Georgia Tech fans as the end of Brian’s Song as the Yellow Jackets are losing their freshmen tandem of Young and Javaris Crittenton. This is a toss-up decision for the forward. Young underachieved this year, and played poorly in Georgia Tech’s first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. He probably could not defend Uncle Junior from The Sopranos and also had trouble with his ball-handling skills. In pre-draft workouts, though, Young showed that he had improved his handling and showed supreme athleticism. He has the potential to develop into a great player and will be a top-20 pick. However, Young probably should have stayed one more year. Playing against ACC competition might force Young to harness his talents and take his game to the next level. If he had done that, he would definitely be a lottery pick.
JamesOn Curry, Oklahoma State – Declared for Draft – This one is a bit of a head-scratcher. Despite having the best name in the draft, there is a good chance that Curry will not be drafted, so it would make sense for him to stay at school. However, in a slight loophole in the NBA Draft rules, if a player is not drafted at all and has not signed with an agent, he can actually return to school for another year and become a free agent the next summer. Curry might be hoping that this scenario happens, similar to what happened with the Knicks and former Kentucky center Randolph Morris (without being forced to play for the Knicks, of course).
DeVon Hardin, California – Staying in School – Hardin said he wanted to be a lottery pick, and he would not have been in this year’s draft. He has been compared to Dwight Howard, with one small problem – his play has never matched his potential. Apparently he is bored and lazy at times and could easily pass for one of Seth Rogan’s pot-smoking, ping-pong-playing friends in Knocked Up. Hardin could definitely use another year in school to really learn how to play the game and possibly harness his immense physical tools.
Sean Singletary, Virginia – Staying in School – This was another smart decision. The point guard played well in the NCAA Tournament, but he apparently really struggled in draft workouts, getting schooled by every point guard from Taurean Green to former UConn women’s star Maria Conlon to Lola Bunny of Space Jam. There are a number of solid point guards this year, including Mike Conley, Jr., Acie Law and Crittenton. Singletary would have been lucky to be drafted, so staying in school was the right move.
So just like every year, there was a mixed bag of players staying in the draft and others going back to exams and classes starting at 12:20. We are now approaching the stretch run of the draft process, and the pieces are starting to fall into place. Hawks fans are currently experiencing their annual ulcer, concerned that Atlanta will pass on a point guard yet again. Joakim Noah is wondering how many of his former teammates will be drafted before him. Kevin Durant is buying a raincoat and drinking Starbucks, preparing for Seattle. Yi Jianlian is thinking of more horrible players he can post up against in workouts in order to convince Danny Ainge and the Celtics to draft him. And somewhere, Omar Cook is sitting down, listening to Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” reading about the draft and wondering what could have been.