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Weak prep class forces NBA to tap collegians

College basketball fans, including myself, always complain about how the NBA hurts our game by luring away high-school seniors who have raw talent. This year, however, things are different.

This high school class is by far the weakest in recent years. NBA scouts and general managers attending pre-draft camps and exhibition games are not finding athletic freaks like Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James or Dwight Howard. Only one high schooler, guard Gerald Green, has the potential to be picked in the lottery. Many scouts didn’t even watch the McDonald’s All-American game after they were unimpressed with the talent in a private scrimmage before the contest. The international talent pool is also not particularly strong this year.

Because of this, college underclassmen who have high stock in the eyes of NBA GMs are more likely than ever to leave school. I think it is extremely unlikely that players like Sean May or Shelden Williams will play another college basketball game. ESPN Insider says both May and Williams are on the fence, but the fact remains that both big men will probably never be drafted higher than if they leave this year. May was the centerpiece of a national title run and Williams captured National Defensive Player of the Year—it really just doesn’t get much better than that in terms of individual accomplishments.

Plus, we all know that the prospect of a guaranteed contract in professional basketball has its way of affecting decisions, regardless of how much an athlete loves the college experience. Don’t believe any athlete who has the potential to make millions of dollars when he says he will stay in school until the declaration deadline passes.

As it stands now, there are other players possibly leaving for the draft who could also drastically change the texture of the ACC. Marvin Williams and Chris Paul are both projected to be top-three picks if they leave, so it’s very hard to imagine they will turn down that opportunity. Rashad McCants and John Gilchrist have already declared for the draft, and Jarrett Jack is also expected to leave. Additionally, Raymond Felton has hinted that he will announce his decision to leave North Carolina today.

Whoa. What are the Tar Heels without May, Felton, McCants, Marvin Williams and graduating seniors Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams and Melvin Scott? UNC will have to rely heavily on incoming freshman Tyler Hansbrough. The forward was the best player in a recent exhibition match between top high school seniors and international prospects, scoring 33 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Regardless of how good Hansbrough is, it seems very likely that Duke will have an edge in any Tobacco Road showdown next year.

The Blue Devils, even if they “only” lose Daniel Ewing and possibly Shelden Williams, have two incoming freshmen who will be big contributors. Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts both were standouts in the McDonald’s All-American game and both have me excited for next year.

If Shelden Williams decides to stay, all the pieces will be in place for Duke to go on a national title run. But it’s silly to get your hopes up yet until the deadline for declaring for the NBA draft passes May 14. I really doubt he stays, but I’d love to be wrong.

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