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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
McCamey, Johnson leave Big Ten behind

By Eamonn Brennan

For now, that is: Illinois' Demetri McCamey and Purdue's JaJuan Johnson will test the NBA waters in the coming months. Both will hold off on hiring agents, leaving them what I think we should officially dub the Luke Harangody Memorial Draft Choice Stratagem; in other words, both players can go check out some camps, work out, see if the draft status begins to look appealing -- and if it doesn't, head back to school for another year of college hoops with no harm done.

The most interesting thing about these two decisions is what happens if the former (an NBA draft selection) and not the latter (a return to college hoops) is the eventual outcome for either. It would change either team's season dramatically, and remake the the Big Ten in ways neither team probably anticipated as their 2009-10 seasons ended.

Johnson's decision is without question the more surprising. Along with Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore, Johnson is part of a trio of juniors -- now seniors -- who arrived at Purdue with high hopes of an NCAA tournament title. The pieces were in place this year. The Boilermakers were humming along, ripe for a No. 1 seed and a clear path to the Indianapolis-hosted NCAA tournament, when, as I'm sure you've heard, Hummel suffered a season-ending knee injury.

So it was expected by most that all three would return for their senior seasons to get one last shot at a prize that could have been theirs before injury struck. Our own Andy Katz, assuming much the same, ranked Purdue No. 1 in his early 2010 preseason rankings. If it sticks, Johnson's decision to leave move Purdue well down that list. The Boilermakers would still be a tough team with Hummel and Moore, but it's hard to overstate how important Johnson's interior scoring, rebounding, and defense boosted an otherwise shallow area of Purdue's club.

McCamey's decision is less surprising, if only because the junior took major steps in his junior year and because he faced some late-season acrimony with coach Bruce Weber. What's more, the Illini largely relied on McCamey for offense in 2009-10 and didn't have a viable second option; along with an NIT finish, that could have been the sort of frustration likely to push any player into the draft.

If McCamey stays, he'd be playing alongside highly touted recruit Jereme Richmond and a set of young Illini guards with another year of experience under their belts. Illinois could be very good. If McCamey does decide to leave -- his best scenario right now is a late second-round pick -- the Illini will still be an intriguing team, but they could face many of the same youth-related issues they dealt with for much of the 2009-10 season.

In other words, both players could be back, but both could also be gone, and the way those decisions line up will either strengthen the Big Ten or remake it in an entirely different light. Let's see how it goes.