After discussing the early entrants with all but four of the lottery teams so far this week, it's clear that Duke freshman guard Kyrie Irving is the overwhelming choice to be the No. 1 pick over Arizona's Derrick Williams. The Washington Wizards are the one team that Irving wouldn't seem to fit with, considering they drafted John Wall just last year.
In these discussion, I've also gotten a sense of whether or not the teams envision certain players staying in the draft, returning to school or are completely unsure what they'll do in the final days before Sunday's NCAA deadline to withdraw from the draft. A number of players are expected to attend a league-wide workout this weekend sponsored by the New Jersey Nets.
From what I can gather, NBA decision-makers expect the following players to return to school, regardless of what occurs the rest of this week or over the weekend:
Olu Ashaolu, Louisiana Tech
Laurence Bowers, Missouri
Kim English, Missouri
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Jeremy Green, Stanford
Tu Holloway, Xavier
Terrence Jennings, Louisville*
Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara
Reggie Johnson, Miami
Kevin Jones, West Virginia
DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky
David Loubeau, Texas A&M
Darius Morris, Michigan
Carleton Scott, Notre Dame
John Shurna, Northwestern
Hollis Thompson, Georgetown
Brandon Wood, Valparaiso**
*announced shortly after this was posted that he will sign with an agent and remain in the draft
**expected to graduate and then transfer as a graduate student, possibly to Michigan State
If that list is accurate, the biggest beneficiaries would be Missouri, Xavier, Texas A&M, Pitt, Michigan, West Virginia, Miami and Northwestern. The Tigers need the core of the team to return for Frank Haith to be a Big 12 contender in year one; Holloway has to come back for the Musketeers to be the favorites in the A-10; Loubeau has to return for the Aggies to be a threat to finish in the top four in the Big 12; Gibbs is the catalyst for a Panthers team that should be top five in the Big East yet again; Morris makes Michigan the second-best team in the Big Ten if he returns; Jones is a must for the Mountaineers to have some stability in a transition year; and Shurna needs to come back for the Wildcats to have a shot at breaking their historic streak of never making the NCAAs.
The players that NBA personnel don't expect to return to school are:
Tobias Harris, Tennessee
Reggie Jackson, Boston College
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Brandon Knight, Kentucky
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Tristan Thompson, Texas
Jordan Williams, Maryland
No one at any of those schools will be stunned if all of that becomes truth. The one that is causing some angst is Williams' decision. But the Terrapins aren't blind to this possibility. The staff is well aware that the sophomore is leaning toward staying in the draft, according to a number of sources. If he stays in, the Terps won't be an NCAA tournament team -- or at least won't be projected to be one in the preseason.
On Tuesday afternoon, Georgia Tech announced that Iman Shumpert would remain in the draft. He was one of the players whose decision was considered a bit of a mystery heading into these final few days. Here are the others:
Losing Sampson will hurt but won't crush the Golden Gophers, although it might be more humbling for him since he's a borderline second-round pick. The loss of Moore would be a hit for the Blazers, who are coming off a Conference USA regular-season title and need to stay in step with Memphis next season. Gillenwater would be major loss for the Aggies, who might be able to challenge WAC king Utah State but not without their leading scorer and rebounder.
New Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is having to start over in Knoxville, and while Hopson would help in the transition, it wouldn't come as a shock if he stayed in the draft to avoid a possible rebuilding season. Joseph would be a significant blow to Texas in light of Jordan Hamilton's decision to stay in the draft and the likelihood that Thompson will as well. The Longhorns do have a strong recruiting class but the experience of Joseph -- yes it was just one season, but in this era that's still plenty -- would be missed.
The biggest loss in this group would be Mack. Butler surely can't repeat consecutive national title game appearances without him or the graduated Matt Howard. Mack came in with Ronald Nored. The two are teammates, roommates and good friends -- and they no doubt wouldn't mind exiting together. Mack is likely a second-round pick this season in a guard-heavy draft but could possibly move up to first-round status in 2012 if he were to return. The possibility of a lockout and not playing until the winter will weigh on him as well. Of this group, Mack has the toughest call to make.