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June 4, 2009Iowa State forward Craig Brackins won't be wearing a custom-made suit or sitting at a table at Madison Square Garden when he watches the NBA draft.
He instead will be viewing the proceedings from campus while critiquing each pick with his Cyclones teammates.
"I always watch the draft just to see where the guys go," Brackins said. "It's good to see their faces and to see all the hard work that they've done pay off. If I keep working hard, one day I'll be in that situation."
That day will come a year later than most people assumed.
Of all the underclassmen who chose to stay in school instead of entering the draft, Brackins' decision provided perhaps the biggest surprise. After Brackins averaged 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds as a sophomore, nobody expected him to come back to school ? not even Brackins.
"At the beginning, I was leaning toward leaving," Brackins said. "As I started to really think about things more thoroughly, I was 50-50. Then I just sat down, made a decision, stuck with it and never looked back."
What changed his mind?
Although Brackins likely would have been selected in the first round if he had entered the draft, nobody knew exactly when in the first round he might get taken. The lack of a consensus opinion gave Brackins second thoughts.
"Some said the lottery," Brackins said. "Some said the end of the first round. It was such a big gap in the range. It was so confusing to hear that. That's what really got me thinking about a lot of things: 'Why am I so all over the board?'
"I thought another year would help."
Brackins can ensure that he gets taken in next year's lottery if he bulks up his frame (he's 6 feet 10 and 230 pounds) and beefs up his game over the next 12 months.
"I want to show some more things I can do, like my perimeter skills," he said. "I want to improve on the things I did well this year, and show some things I could do but didn't really show this past year, like my defense. I haven't really shown I can play defense that well. That's something I'm definitely focused on."
Although he could improve his draft stock with a big 2009-10 campaign, Brackins' decision still was a surprise.
North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green knew they had a chance to win the national title when they decided to return to school for the 2008-09 season. The same goes for Kansas teammates Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, two of the best-known underclassmen to stay in school this year. Iowa State hardly fits the profile of a national title contender. The Cyclones went 15-17 this season and haven't earned an NCAA bid since 2005.
Brackins said he believes the Cyclones could end that drought next season. Iowa State returns four starters and five of the six leading scorers from its 2008-09 team. The Cyclones also add 6-2 point guard Chris Colvin, rated the No. 99 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Iowa State also is hoping for big things from 6-7 forward Marquis Gilstrap, who averaged 22.6 points and 10.1 rebounds this season for Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College.
The Cyclones won't have an easy time making headway in the Big 12, which should rank among the nation's toughest conferences. Kansas could enter the season as the top-ranked team in the nation, Texas likely will be in the top five and Oklahoma almost certainly will be ranked. Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M also look like potential NCAA tournament teams.
Brackins said he thinks his team could join that list. That's one of the biggest reasons he returned to Iowa State.
"I just had some unfinished business I feel I need to handle," Brackins said. "One more year with the team we have ? we have a chance to do some of the things we want to do. I want to make a run for the NCAA tournament. I've been here two years and we haven't made it. With the team we have, we definitely can make it."
Brackins also cited the team chemistry, which became particularly apparent after the season as he pondered his future.
"I got advice from teammates, and they said, 'Don't worry about us and think we're mad or something [if you leave],' " Brackins said. "There was a lot of support from teammates and coaches. They said not to feel bad if I think about leaving.
"Some people might think, 'That's messed up if you're leaving us.' My teammates were supportive."
Even though he won't be launching his pro career, Brackins figures to have an eventful summer. He was one of 16 players selected to compete for 12 spots on the United States roster for the World University Games. If Brackins makes the team, he would depart for Serbia on June 25 and compete July 2-12 in Belgrade.
"I didn't think I'd have an opportunity like this ever," Brackins said. "It's a big honor to me and a huge opportunity for me, to try to make this team. If I do, it would be the highlight of my life, honestly."
Big Ten bonanza?
The Big Ten had five players invited to the tryouts, a figure that led all conferences. The Big Ten contingent is Purdue teammates Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson, Penn State guard Talor Battle, Illinois forward Mike Davis and Ohio State forward Evan Turner. The U.S. team will be coached by Wisconsin's Bo Ryan.
Perhaps the biggest testament to the Big Ten's strength is that the conference's large representation doesn't include anyone from reigning NCAA runner-up Michigan State. Purdue and Michigan State likely will open the season in the top 10.
The rest of the players invited to the tryouts are Iowa State forward Craig Brackins, Oklahoma State guard/forward James Anderson, Clemson forward Trevor Booker, West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler, Kansas guard Sherron Collins, Villanova guard Corey Fisher, Marquette forward Lazar Hayward, USF guard Dominique Jones, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, North Carolina forward Deon Thompson and Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado.
USC's brutal offseason continued this week with forward Marcus Johnson's surprising decision to turn pro. Johnson, a Connecticut transfer, made his decision just a few days after the NCAA had granted him an extra year of eligibility. Although Johnson averaged just 3.6 points this season, he could have played a bigger role next season while helping USC overcome the early departures of DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett. He instead added his name to the list of players heading elsewhere. "Kansas has two players who would have been NBA lottery picks ? Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins ? and they are returning to school," USC coach Tim Floyd told The Los Angeles Times. "Good for them. Our guys get an offer from Islamabad and they're gone."
USC wasn't the only school to get bad news this week. Saint Mary's guard Patrick Mills announced his plans to remain in the NBA draft, and Xavier forward Derrick Brown also is staying in the draft. Brown's absence could keep Xavier out of the preseason rankings, though the Musketeers still look like an NCAA tournament team. But it's hard to imagine Saint Mary's cracking the NCAA field without Mills.
Could one more player join the list of guys heading to Europe? Tennessee forward Tyler Smith told The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel this week that he would consider playing overseas if he got the right offer. Smith's comments came a week after Florida guard Nick Calathes and Clemson guard Terrence Oglesby ended their college careers early to sign with European pro teams. Smith has entered his name into the NBA draft, but he hasn't made a final decision on his plans for next season.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.