There is is no going back.
Last night was the deadline for players who had declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft to stay in or pull out.
After dipping their toe in the NBA waters there was an opportunity to withdraw and keep their college eligibility.
But as the clock struck both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph - the Toronto-area freshmen who helped lift the University of Texas to a No.3 ranking at one point this season - kept their names in the game.
Of the two Thompson's decision came as no surprise. He had a fantastic rookie season in the Big 12, probably the best freshman year a Canadian has ever had in NCAA basketball. A 6-foot-8, 235-pound power forward with NBA-caliber athleticism who earned plaudits for how hard he played, Thompson is a lock to go in the first round and earn the guaranteed contract that comes with it. The only question is whether he sneaks into the lottery or not; he's currently rated 14th best prospect in the draft. It's expected he's going to be represented by Leon Rose, a powerful NBA agent who also represents LeBron James, among other top names.
As his mother said in a Toronto Star story, "dollars got to run" - the Jamaican version of take the money and run. Another year of college might have improved Thompson - but given the quality of player development that most NBA teams have in place these days he will develop more in the pros -- but also carried with it the risk of injury or the possibility that NBA scouts would pick apart his game and in a stronger draft class his stock could fall, rather than rise.
The surprise to some was Joseph leaving too. He also had a stellar freshman season, but didn't quite put himself on the national radar the way Thompson did -- one respected draft evaluation site has him ranked No.74 among pro prospects; a concern given only 60 players get drafted. He's widely regarded as a heady, team-first competitor and he can shoot the ball well enough. But while he's an awesome athlete by any reasonable standard - having seen him play in person in high school the speed with which he advances the ball on the dribble is eye-popping - the NBA standard for point guard athleticism is off the charts right now.
Derrick Rose, John Wall. Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Mike Conley, Brandon Jennings and Lou Williams are on a short list of NBA point guards who could be training for gold medals in one event or another but instead are giving guys like Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon whiplash; and that's without considering some of the best in the game: Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Steve Nash….the list goes on.
The position is as deep as it's ever been, and in a weak draft Joseph is at best considered a second-round pick, which means he isn't guaranteed anything except an invitation to training camp. There's a real possibility he won't get drafted at all.
So is Joseph making a mistake?
Perhaps it depends on your view of big-time college basketball.
If you're of the mind that it's about developing well-rounded people who pursue twin goals of academic excellence and athletic development in an environment where the individual grows into a citizen, comfortable mingling with the leaders of tomorrow in a wide-range of fields and possibly meeting a future spouse, all while guided by thoughtful and well-meaning coaching staff that has the player's best interests at heart, then maybe staying in college is the right choice for anyone.
But if you're conscious that big-time college basketball is essentially a racket and otherwise a holding pen for pros-to-be. A place where lifting your game to a professional standard can be held back by inferior coaching (compared to what can be provided on a quality NBA staff) and NCAA stipulations that players can only train 20 hours a week and not at all (formally) in the off-season and that an athlete's own goals might be compromised by the needs of the team or promises the self-serving head coach has made to other recruits; and that instead of a well-rounded college experience you basically spend all of your time with other basketball players and in the meantime have these pesky academic obligations to pay lip service too, then getting out of college sooner is better.
For Thompson it all makes sense. No Canadian has ever been taken higher than Steve Nash, who was drafted 15th overall in 1996. Thompson would be the first Canadian taken in the first round since Toronto big man Jamaal Magloire (now with the Miami Heat) was chosen 19th in 2000.
It's a choice that certainly carries some risk for Joseph. While a big man like Thompson will always be insulated by his size - somewhere on this earth he will be able to make money playing basketball unless he shrinks or is badly injured -- Joseph's position is supremely competitive. There are a lot of athletic six-footers who want the same job he does.
But consider his options: stay at Texas where incoming freshman and fellow Torontonian Myck Kabongo would almost certainly push him from point guard to shooting guard and delay his professional aspirations that much further? Or declare himself a professional at 19 and then choose the best course to navigate his way into the NBA?
Perhaps that's the last spot on an NBA roster learning his craft on the practice court and in pre-game shoot-arounds while watching how the best in the world do it from the best seat in the arena and drawing a healthy NBA rookie minimum salary for the trouble. Maybe it's playing in the NBA Development league, facing better competition than he would in college and drawing a modest pay cheque (though more than he would get in college) along the way, all the while remaining a phone call away from an NBA roster.
Maybe it's a season or two in Europe, earning money and learning the ropes of the professional game over there.
All are possible paths for Joseph now that he's turned his back on college basketball; none come with any certain destination.
But just because he's left Texas doesn't mean Joseph won't be going to school; t's just now he'll be earning a graduate degree in professional basketball.Report Typo/Error
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