Keegan: Money deciding factor

Sophomore guard Brandon Rush

Sophomore guard Brandon Rush

Saturday, April 28, 2007

As soon as Julian Wright said it wasn't about the money at his farewell news conference, he unofficially stepped out of college and into the professional ranks. Once an athlete says it's not about the money, he has made the leap from kid to commodity.

Of course it's about the money, which is perfectly fine. A college basketball player's decision to make himself eligible for an NBA career had better be about the money. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense.

If the projections Wright and coach Bill Self have been given - that he should go somewhere in the first 16 picks - are accurate, he'll be guaranteed big money.

For Brandon Rush, who as expected has declared himself eligible for the draft, it only makes sense if he leaves himself a path back to Kansas University. If he doesn't blow away scouts in late May at the pre-draft camp in Orlando, and in subsequent days during workouts for individual teams, he shapes up as a second-round choice. That path back to KU lies in going to class the next two months and getting passing grades.

"Guys who flunk out of school really murky the waters for themselves," said Jim Clibanoff of Clib Hoops, a scouting service to which roughly half of the NBA teams subscribe.

Aside from costing their schools the points needed to maintain scholarships, such players raise serious flags about whether they have the character and commitment to withstand a grueling NBA travel schedule and long stretches on the bench.

Asked if Rush and Wright would be hurting their draft positions if they blew off the remainder of the semester, Clibanoff answered before the question was finished.

"Absolutely," he said by phone from his Philadelphia office. "Absolutely. And there will be agents out there encouraging them to do that. They'll tell them, 'How can you not put your best foot forward? Blah, blah, blah.' It's very important they finish school."

If Rush were to drop out, he would be taking a gigantic step backward and would be erasing much of the progress he made in minimizing the negative image he took with him to Kansas in the first place.

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Clibanoff sounded a little perplexed at Rush's decision, but said, "It's early in the process. Projections can change a lot in the next several weeks."

Asked if Rush were a first-round possibility, Clibanoff said: "There is a lot of talk about guys in the first-round mix. Well, there are 50 guys in the first-round mix."

He added this year's draft is far deeper with talented wings than next season's now looks on paper.

"If he goes back to school, he's a year older, a year more mature, and maturity has always been a question mark with Brandon Rush," Clibanoff said. "It seems he's, pardon the pun, in a rush. Isn't it better to go to a team after your junior year that needs you as opposed to going early in the second round to a team that doesn't really need you, cuts you, and leaves you on the outside looking in?"

Rush is gambling, and could be leaving millions of dollars on the table.

Meanwhile, millions are expected to be leaving Kansas City and coming to Lawrence in the form of a multi-million dollar donation to the KU athletic department from the Ward family, noted for its generosity toward Kansas athletics.