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NBA: Decoding needed for draft ratings

By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
The pressing question that soon could confront several of college basketball’s best players ó including three from North Carolina and one from N.C. State ó is exactly what they’re willing to settle for.
Will it be first round, second round or nothing at all ó in the June 26 NBA Draft.
These players would like to get assurance before June 16 that they’re certain to be selected in the first round and thereby receive a guaranteed two-year contract from one of the league’s 30 teams.
But entering this week’s pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., only North Carolina playmaker Ty Lawson, a junior if he returns to school for the 2008-09 season, is rated first-round material of the four Tar Heels and Wolfpack hopefuls.
Most of the draft projections have Lawson going in the final third of the first round. N.C. State forward J.J. Hickson, who would be a sophomore in 2008-09, is seen by most of the draft pundits as a late first-round or early- to mid second-round pick.
Carolina wingmen Wayne Ellington (rising junior) and Danny Green (rising senior) are envisioned as marginal draftees in either round.
For underclassmen who have not entered agreements with sports agents, the next key date is June 16. That’s the deadline to either withdraw from the draft or remain in the mix and end their college eligibility.
The status of all four could change during the next couple of weeks. But that’s unlikely. For all of the extended days and weeks for collective and individual tryouts, the draft mentality hasn’t change very much during the past few years. It’s become relatively rare that prospects significantly play their way up or down in the draft-pecking order during these late-spring auditions.
While the hopefuls do participate in limited scrimmages and a skills-reviewal process, the top-ranked 25 or so players usually don’t change from mid-February through draft day. For the majority of first-rounders, the pre-draft stops have evolved into a meet-and-greet routine. Other than the foreign players, genuine first-round “surprise” picks basically have become extinct.
That was even the case for former Duke standout Carlos Boozer, now a star for the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Despite reportedly impressive individual workouts, Boozer, after his junior season, went into the 2002 draft projected as an early second-rounder and landed exactly there when he became the 34th overall pick, by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But in effect, Boozer has become the patron saint of collegiate long shots. He defied the odds ó not to mention all sorts of seemingly logical advice to return to school ó and beat the system on its own terms.
Which brings us back to the current UNC-N.C. State quartet. Like Boozer in ’02, all four want some justification to make the move from college to the NBA. Grant Hill, upon announcing that he would return to Duke for his senior season for 1993-94, summed it up perfectly when he said, “You can find good reasons to leave, but you can find good reasons to stay, too. It depends on what you’re looking to find.”
For now, the only assumption for North Carolina and State fans to make is that an acceptable rationalization for going pro will be found by all of these players. When it comes to the NBA Draft, the rule is where there’s a glimmer of hope, there’s a reason to leave.

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