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April 26, 2008
Roundtable: Some surprised by staying
At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college basketball coverage staff for their opinion about a specific topic from the past week in college basketball.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Who surprised you the most by not leaving early for the NBA Draft?
Thabeet isn't close to being NBA-ready on offense, but he is a good defender and OK rebounder - and you figure his offense eventually will develop. In other words, he's exactly like, oh, 95 percent of the big men who go in the first round of the draft.
Thabeet obviously thinks another year of college ball will make him even more draft-worthy. He deserves credit for thinking ahead. At the same time, he is leaving a lot of money on the table. If for some reason he doesn't improve, it may be money he never is able to get back.
Louisville's Earl Clark should have stuck with his first choice, which was to enter the draft. He was a breakout star in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks and shooting 62.2 percent (23-of-37) in four games.
I happened to see all four of his March Madness performances in person. Just ask Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl if Clark is ready for the next level. Against the Vols in the Sweet 16, Clark had 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, including a block of a Chris Lofton 3-point attempt that is one of the best plays I've ever seen. Lofton launched from the left corner, and I swear Clark wasn't within 5 feet of him as he came running out, leaped and somehow got a piece of the shot.
This is what Roy Williams said about Clark before North Carolina matched up with the Cards in the Elite Eight: "You've got a guy who's 6-8 who can play inside, play outside, shoot, put the ball on the floor, block shots, rebound. … If you try to play him with a post player, he takes you outside. If you try to play him with little guys, he takes you inside. So he's a matchup nightmare."
Clark would have been a first-round pick. I couldn't find a mock draft that didn't list him there. Why risk Rick Pitino's doghouse when you could be making enough money to live in the penthouse?
Arizona State freshman James Harden said in the middle of the season that he wouldn't enter the draft, so I can't say that I'm all that surprised. But I did think there was a good chance Harden would reconsider and make the leap.
Harden had a better season than many of the other freshmen testing the waters. He carried an Arizona State team that won just two Pac-10 games in 2006-07 to a 9-9 league record and the brink of an NCAA Tournament bid. He proved he could be a go-to scorer, help out on the glass, create offense for others and make big plays on defense. He averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and a league-high 2.1 steals. Few players in the country had that versatile of a stat line.
Moreover, Harden (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) has the size to play shooting guard in the NBA. As a college basketball fan, I'm glad Harden stayed in school, but he had every reason to leave.