What do you think of when you hear the names Brandon Armstrong and Steven Hunter?
Unless you’re an NCAA hoops junkie, you’ve probably got a blank look on your face. Nevertheless, if these players’ dreams come true, you’ll soon know them as NBA stars.
Although many experts believe that neither of these college underclassmen is draft material, the hoopsters are among 14 candidates that have recently declared themselves prematurely eligible for June’s NBA selection gala.
The parade has begun, and it is expected to grow considerably in the weeks leading up to the May 13 declaration deadline.
Just this week, national runner-up Arizona lost its frontcourt when juniors Richard Jefferson and Michael Wright announced their intentions to turn pro. Eddie Curry, the national preps player of the year from Chicago, became this year’s second high school entrant when he took the plunge Monday. Michigan State’s sophomore swingman Jason Richardson and Notre Dame’s All-American junior Troy Murphy made their declarations yesterday.
At this point, no one is surprised when hearing about college underclassmen or even high school seniors who believe that they are ready for the NBA. After all, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan sparkled in the pros after fitting into the former category in the 1980s, and Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant made the jump successfully from the latter group last decade.
In fact, by the time he concluded his career at Wake Forest in 1997, Tim Duncan was practically an anomaly because of his decision to remain in school for four years as a college superstar. Just ask Duke senior Shane Battier how many times this season he has been requested to elaborate on what it meant to stay in school for four years.
Thus, it’s hard to find fault with the announcements of Wright and Murphy, both of whom have proven themselves as college standouts. And if Duke point guard Jason Williams follows the experts’ recommendations and decides to enter the NBA after his spectacular sophomore season, the declaration will be viewed as a no-brainer.
But what about Pepperdine’s Armstrong, who is an undersized shooting guard at 6-4 and played in the relatively unknown West Coast Conference? Or DePaul’s Hunter, who scored just 11 points per game and barely tops 200 pounds despite his 7-foot-1-inch frame? Are these players truly confident that they are NBA material? They claim that they have discussed their situations with their coaches, their families and those in the know regarding their draft status. Of course, when you listen to their press announcements, you are led to believe that they are nearly shoo-ins for the 2002 NBA All-Star game.
All of the marginal NBA prospects will receive a final chance to display their skills in early June at the Chicago pre-draft camp. They will then have until a week before the June 27 draft to retract their declarations and return to school if they have not yet hired agents.
I’m not here to preach to people I don’t know personally about what they should do with their lives. Plus, it’s hard to blame some of them for taking the money as soon as possible, especially since many have pressing family situations that intensify their need to earn income as soon as possible.
But I can’t help but worry about guys like Armstrong and Hunter. What will happen if they fail to earn NBA roster spots this fall? Will they decide to kick around in developmental leagues, or will they return to their respective universities to finish their schooling? If they do make it to the NBA, but are stuck riding the bench, will they envy their former college teammates playing in the NCAA tournament a year from now?
I wish only the best for these two young men and for the rest of the underclassmen and high schoolers who ultimately choose the prospect of the NBA over the security of school. But I can’t help but wonder whether they will soon experience times of unnecessary gloom.
For their sakes, I hope this is a parade worth joining.