In all, only six players from the league declared for the draft. Of those six, three ultimately decided to return to school by the May 8 deadline.
What follows is an analysis of the decisions each of those six players made and thoughts on what those choices will mean to each player’s college team in 2011-12.
THOSE WHO STAYED IN THE DRAFT:
Terrence Jennings, Louisville.
This one surprised many people, as the majority of respected mock NBA drafts don’t even have the junior forward getting picked in either of the two rounds.
Jennings was a highly-touted prospect when he arrived in the Derby City, but his shortcomings have been as obvious as his talent. The 6-10, 230-pounder averaged 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game this past season.
The reason for that relatively low number of minutes is one of the reasons people in Louisville and elsewhere are scratching their heads over this decision: Jennings does not have much of an offensive game at this point.
He lacks a power game in the post and is not a particularly consistent shooter. He was working to develop a hook shot late in the season, but had not yet shown the ability to make the up-and-under move so many big men use with great effectiveness once that hook shot is a consistent weapon.
But in losing Jennings, head coach Rick Pitino and company will lose a respectable interior defender and one of the better shot-blockers in the league.
Carleton Scott, Notre Dame.
Early entrants for the NBA Draft are almost always a surprise in South Bend, as Scott became only the second Irish player under coach Mike Brey to opt to leave school early for the pros.
The other player to do so was Troy Murphy, who was ultimately an NBA lottery pick. Scott will almost certainly not be so lucky, as like Jennings, most mock drafts don’t even have the forward getting chosen.
The 6-foot-8, 218-pound native of San Antonio was likely going to be Brey’s leader in 2011-12, as Scott averaged career-highs in points (11.2), rebounds (7.4) and minutes (31.2) as a fourth-year junior.
He had one season of eligibility left after redshirting as a true freshman. But because he was reportedly set to graduate from Notre Dame at the end of the spring semester, he and his family felt more comfortable with his decision to opt into the draft.
Kemba Walker, Connecticut.
The lone Big East underclassman with the potential to be a lottery pick this season, Walker made the decision to jump to the NBA not long after he led the Huskies through a magical March that included the Big East and national championships.
Walker averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game as a junior. He was second in voting for both the Wooden and Naismith Awards (given to the top player in college basketball).
He, like Scott, was reportedly on course to graduate by the end of the spring semester. Given all those factors, there was little more for Walker to accomplish at the college level.
But that doesn’t mean every NBA scout is sold on the point guard. He is a bit undersized, listed at 6-foot-0 and probably a bit shorter in reality. And some have wondered if he transition from being a relied-upon scorer, like he was at UConn, to a player who runs an NBA offense efficiently.
Regardless, most mock drafts have Walker getting selected somewhere between fifth and 10th overall, so the guard will have the chance to prove himself at the next level.
Without him, even the defending national champions will have to take a step back in 2011-12, though a talented corps of young players also came on strong during the Huskies’ title run.
THOSE WHO OPTED TO RETURN:
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh.
One of the better scoring guards in college basketball, scouts apparently had some reservation about Gibbs’ ability to do the same at the next level. And so one of the Big East’s best player will be back on campus next season.
Gibbs averaged 16.8 points per game for the Big East regular season champion Panthers and declared for the draft not long after the season ended.
Unlike some others across the nation who were perceived as declaring solely to get more information about their relative strengths and weaknesses to better prepare for later runs at the professional ranks, Gibbs truly was hoping to make the jump to the NBA now.
“When I entered the Draft, I entered to work my hardest to get drafted,” he told Adam Zagoria via text message in April.
At that point, he fully expected to keep his name in the pool of early entrants. But even after attending the NBA Draft combine at the New Jersey Nets’ practice facility last weekend, it was clear Gibbs wasn’t getting the positive feedback he expected, so he decided to return to school.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia.
The name most familiar to the majority of readers of this piece, Jones will be the Mountaineers’ leading returning player in terms of scoring average (13.1 points per game) and rebounding (7.5 per contest) from the 2010-11 squad.
His decision to return to Morgantown came at the end of a long flirtation with the draft. He surprised some just by making his name available initially, but many expected Jones would just use the process to learn what to work on during his senior season.
Those expectations changed when Jones’ older brother, Gerard, was quoted in the Lower Hudson Journal News in late April.
"A lot of scouts are really high on him if he does come out this year," Gerard reportedly said of Kevin at that point.
But as the process continued, apparently the Jones brothers got more of the feedback that led most major mock drafts to not include him as a selection in either of the two rounds.
For that to change, Jones must develop an ability to play off the dribble and must become a more consistent shooter.
Hollis Thompson, Georgetown.
Thompson was not so much as in the starting lineup for the Hoyas during the months of January and February, and only cracked the starting five in March when GU star Chris Wright broke his hand.
So it came as little surprise when the junior wing opted to stay in school, though he did wait until the last minute to return, reportedly informing Georgetown coach John Thompson III of his decision at about 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, just three hours before the deadline to officially declare that intention.
Hollis Thompson averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season for the Hoyas. But he will likely figure far more prominently into GU’s schemes in 2011-12, as both the aforementioned Wright and Austin Freeman will be gone.
A “tweener” at 6-foot-7, Thompson may move into the backcourt this season as his coach brings in several big bodied freshmen to play in the interior.