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A plea for Williams to return

For Duke basketball fans, there’s a lot to be optimistic about right now after the performances of Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus in the McDonald’s All-American game. If Shelden Williams comes back, Duke will be the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis next April.

Unfortunately, that “if” is huge as Williams considers declaring for the June 28 NBA draft.

Much has been made of how weak this year’s draft crop is. The analysts who are bemoaning the lack of talent from the high school and international pools are mostly on target.

It is pretty clear, no matter the degree of weakness, that there will be more opportunities this year than in recent memory for college players to be plucked off the draft board before David Stern turns the show over to the deputy commissioner.

Some might say that the dearth of potential should be viewed as an opportunity for college veterans such as Williams and UNC’s Sean May to bolt their respective programs this spring.

I have a different message for Williams, though:

Shelden, it would be a huge mistake to leave. The final stretch of this past season, beginning with the away UNC game March 6, proved that your game is not yet ready for the pros.

Against the Tar Heels, you were manhandled by May. He had 26 points to your 22 and had 24 rebounds when you only had four. You may have been more efficient from the field, but I think it was pretty clear who the better big man was that afternoon. The Tar Heels ran their game through May, who deftly found teammates when Duke double-teamed him. You, on the other hand, looked lost when weak-side defenders came to help out.

Your output in the tournament was respectable but left something to be desired. Fourteen points and 11 rebounds against Delaware State is good, but not the type of performance an NBA lottery pick would put forth. Against Mississippi State and Michigan State you had strong first halves but disappeared down the stretch when the team was in trouble. You had just six second-half points against the Spartans and fouled out with 2:41 left after a tough matchup with Paul Davis.

Overall you had a solid season. You averaged 15.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Playing in the ACC, those are the numbers of a future NBA player.

Your defensive play was indicative of a future NBA standout. The 122 blocks you racked up this season were more than impressive, especially considering how many of them came on the man you were supposed to be guarding, rather than coming from the weak side like most big men do for the majority of their rejections. You were well deserving of the NABC National Defensive Player of the Year award, and were invaluable to the success of the Blue Devils’ defense this year.

But the question for you is, do you want to be P.J. Brown or Elton Brand? Charles Oakley or Carlos Boozer? If you leave now, there’s a good chance you’ll never develop the offensive confidence necessary to be a star on the next level. If you stay, you’ll have a chance to become the complete player you deserve to be.

So I say, stay here and work on your game. Work on your jump shot. An improved jump shot, even if it were only from 12 or 15 feet, will extend the defense and allow you to move more around the floor.

Stay and work on your footwork and post moves. Right now, you are plagued by a bit of Derek Zoolander disease—you can’t spin both ways. I can’t even remember how many times I wanted to scream this year when you spun into the double team, instead of toward the open basket. Passing is important for a big man in the NBA, and you did not exhibit great vision this season. You’d also be wise to continue working on those drop-step and up-and-under moves you employed from time to time this year.

Next year’s team will be special if you come back—perhaps a chance at a national title could whet your appetite to return. And if you’re worried about not having enough bodies to bang in practice, rest assured that McRoberts and Eric Boateng are ready for the challenge.

So in the words of Billy Madison: don’t be a fool Shelden, stay in school.

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