Diving deeper on the Commission on College Basketball's recommendation to allow undrafted players to return to school
While Kansas coach Bill Self has been known for putting players in the NBA Draft lottery, there also have been a handful of ultra-talented Jayhawks who have gone undrafted after leaving KU.
Some of them, such as point guard Sherron Collins or power forward Perry Ellis, were seniors and had reached the end of the road on their college careers.
But a few of the undrafted Jayhawks have been underclassmen, who, because they kept their name in the draft and signed with an agent, were forced to start their professional careers elsewhere, outside of the glitz and glamour and guaranteed big-money contracts offered by the NBA.
While the immediate future of the NBA Draft now means nothing to those players, it could get quite interesting for players like them in the near future.
Although the overwhelming response to The Commission on College Basketball's recommendations to the NCAA to help clean up the sport was that the committee fell short and missed a great opportunity to do something meaningful, there were a couple of aspects of the 60-page report that could be deemed as good for the game if installed properly.
Sure, getting rid of the one-and-done rule or better transparency from shoe companies and agents would be good for the game, as well. But implementing those recommendations, at least the way the commission sees it, is a bit of a pipe dream and would be both costly and dependent on outside help.
One recommendation that appears to be entirely up to the NCAA, however, is the idea that undrafted players could return to college after the NBA Draft.
There are, of course, a couple of conditions here. 1. The player must remain academically eligible. 2. The player must return to the same school. 3. The player must request an evaluation from the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee before entering the draft.
All of those are fairly standard practices in the first place, at least at Kansas. So maintaining them in the presence of this type of new rule would not be all that difficult.
The commission contends that “elite high school and college basketball players tend to misjudge their professional prospects,” and that better vetting of that on the front end would lead to better decisions being made. While that certainly seems true — according to NCAA research conducted in 2017, 59 percent of Division I basketball players believe that they will play professionally — having a safety net in place would be both good for the players and for the college game.
The only con I can see here is that it might make the recruiting game a little tougher for coaches whose rosters might be in limbo a little longer.
As it stands today, Udoka Azubuike has until May 30 to decide if he wants to stay in the draft or pull his name out. Under a new rule based off the recommendation, KU would have to wait at least three more weeks — until after the June 21 draft — to know Azubuike's status for sure.
But coaches adjust. And as long as the playing field is somewhat level, which, for the most part, would be the case with this rule in place, finding a way to adapt to this idea would not take that long or be all that difficult.
So enough about why the rule would be good or has been recommended. Let's look at some more practical examples of what this could mean.
By my count, and including this year, there have been just three (with the potential for that to increase to four or five) players in the Bill Self era at Kansas who have tried to turn pro and could have come back after not getting drafted.
Cliff Alexander in 2015. Wayne Selden in 2016. Brannen Greene in 2016. And Azubuike and Lagerald Vick this year, should Azubuike decide to stay in the draft and both players go undrafted.
Looking back, it seems unlikely that Alexander (eligibility), Selden (roster availability) or Greene (roster availability) would have been able to return had this rule been in place in the past, so it's not exactly as if KU has missed out. Besides, both Selden (still with Memphis) and Alexander (in the NBA and G League from 2015-18) did well for themselves despite not getting drafted.
There have been some who suggest that the rule should expand to include allowing players drafted in the second round to return to school, but that, in my opinion, is a tougher case to make. Getting drafted is getting drafted. And in an era when more than 200 players are eligible for the draft on an annual basis, being one of the lucky 60 to get selected seems like a pretty sweet reward. What they do with it from there is up to them.
As mentioned at the top, Self and his staff have done a fantastic job of developing KU players for the next level and Kansas is an enjoying a rich era of former Jayhawks playing big roles in the NBA. So it's not a huge surprise that this number is so small.
What might be more interesting to examine, however, is the number of former KU players in the Self era who would have tried their luck in the draft earlier if this recommended rule had been in place.
That list is much longer and makes it easy to see how (a) such a situation would have changed the look of several KU teams and (b) could have changed the pro prospects for a handful of former Jayhawks.
Before getting carried away and assuming that everyone would have tried to go early and just returned to school if they weren't drafted — which very well could be the case unless the rule is carefully crafted should it go into effect — let's take a quick look at former Jayhawks who had the best case for truly expecting to be drafted earlier than they were.
• Wayne Simien, 2004 – If Simien had left after his junior season (his first under Self), no one would have been shocked. The former KU All-American averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds per game his junior year and easily would have drawn interest from the NBA. As it went, Simien returned for his senior season, averaged 20 and 11 and became a first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat (No. 29 overall) in the 2005 NBA Draft.
• Cole Aldrich, 2009 – After following up his NCAA Tournament coming-out party as a freshman with a strong sophomore season that produced 15 points and 11 rebounds per game averages, Aldrich, at 6-foot-11, with great instincts and good skills, easily would have been drafted — and almost certainly in the first round — had he elected to leave school after two seasons. Instead, he came back for a third year, teamed with Sherron Collins to produce a monster season in 2009-10 and became a lottery pick, going No. 11 overall, in the 2010 NBA Draft.
• Marcus and Markieff Morris, 2010 – The Twins were probably ready to roll after their second seasons at KU, with Marcus being more of a bona fide star and Markieff still coming into his own. Either way, both players would've been first-round picks and risked nothing by leaving. Instead, they returned for their junior seasons, helped lead KU to the Elite Eight and then became back-to-back lottery picks in the 2011 NBA Draft. It turned out to be a brilliant move and making the jump a year earlier would not have led to the same type of lucrative contracts they got by waiting.
• Jeff Withey, 2012 – Looking back, I still can't quite believe Withey did not leave after his junior year. After all, he was coming off of a monster NCAA Tournament in which he set the record for most blocks in a single tournament and had helped lead KU all the way to the title game. He would've been drafted. And he would not have been able to return for a senior season that saw him produce better numbers (14 and 9 vs. 9 and 6) and wind up drafted No. 39 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. I'm sure playing as more of the man helped his confidence and all-around game, but it probably had little impact on his draft stock.
• Carlton Bragg Jr., 2016 – This seems like one that would have happened. After a solid end to his freshman season, Bragg easily could have elected to try things out in the draft, knowing that his size, length and skills likely would have landed him a spot in the Top 60. That does not mean he would have done it, but the option would have been there had he known he could return to school if he went undrafted. Instead, he came back for his sophomore season and never turned into the player people believed he would become before transferring to Arizona State and again to New Mexico after leaving the KU program.
• Svi Mykhailiuk, 2017 – Of all of these, this one seems, to me, like the surest bet. It's no secret that Svi wanted to head to the NBA last Spring and was willing to make the jump if just one team had given him any kind of assurance that they would draft him. It never came, he pulled his name out of the draft and had a stellar senior season and is poised to get drafted this June. Clearly, he made the right move. But had this rule been in place, Svi would have been in the perfect position to take advantage of it. Unlike a lot of guys, who are hellbent on becoming first-rounders (for the obvious reason of guaranteed money), Svi likely would have been content as a second-round pick. So, for him, the rule would have been perfect. It's either get drafted in the Top 60 or return to school. No regrets about being picked 45th and being stuck when you hoped and thought you were a first-rounder.
• Udoka Azubuike, 2018 – If this rule were in place today, I don't think there's any doubt that Azubuike would declare and see what happens. Knowing he could return to KU if undrafted would be a great fall-back plan, but this guy, at least to me, seems like someone who wants to make the jump and, like Svi a year ago, is not all that worried about whether he's a first-round or second-round pick. Being in the Top 60 would be good enough and he'd be OK moving forward from there. Since the recommended rule is not in place, however, Azubuike needs some kind of assurance from an NBA team that he will be drafted. Otherwise, he will likely elect to return to KU for another season and see what happens after another year under Self and Andrea Hudy and as the focal point for a talented KU team. It's a win-win in many ways, but the recommendation would make it a much less stressful scenario for the big fella.
That's just a short list of the guys who I deem most likely to have tried to go earlier had this proposed rule change been in place during their days.
Are there others? No doubt. Mario Chalmers might have tried to go after his sophomore year when both Julian Wright and Brandon Rush (pre-injury) were headed down that road themselves. Sherron Collins might have given it a hard look after his junior season. Even Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham might have considered it after Year 3 instead of coming back for Year 4. But I don't think any of those guys — or any others you can think of — would have had as strong of a case as the ones mentioned above.
Regardless of what would have been, what's important from here on out is what will be. And while the CCB's recommendations in many ways had a fair amount of holes in them, this one seems like something that would be fairly easy to implement and a move that everyone can get behind.