NBA Draft: Decision on whether to turn pro is tougher than ever in 2011

BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: June 6, 2011

College underclassmen faced a double-edged sword when deciding to declare for this year's NBA Draft.

The decision has always been a matter of timing, and whether a player was qualified to make the jump.

This year, a prospect also had to consider whether he was willing to make the jump.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on June 30, one week after the draft. Until a new CBA is in place, no interaction between players and their NBA team – not even via a third party – is permitted.

There will be no contract agreements, no summer leagues, no mandatory workouts, no voluntary workouts, no mini camps, no training camp and no sessions with team trainers or physicians. Most important, there will be no pay days.

No NBA player gets paid without a new CBA. These circumstances are stressful for league veterans and could become overwhelming for draftees, especially those who chose not to return to college.

Oklahoma City Thunder center Nazr Mohammed faced the same decision when he declared for the 1998 draft after his junior season at Kentucky. The NBA played just 50 games that season, which did not begin until Feb. 5, 1999.

Mohammed said uncertainty of the CBA did not influence his decision to leave UK, but it was tough for him to watch his college team play while the NBA was still in a lockout.

“I know in December I wish I was playing in college,” Mohammed recalled. “I was still in Lexington (Kent.) watching the guys play, and I wanted to be out there with them.”

Mohammed was the last pick in the first round (29th overall) and has played for seven different franchises in his 13-year career. He won a world championship ring with San Antonio in 2005 and has made more than $57.2 million in the NBA.

Mohammed's contract expired after this season, and he repeatedly has said he would like to return to OKC. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who was with Mohammed in San Antonio, speaks glowingly of the 33-year-old.

“It was a roll of the dice, but my career's been solid,” Mohammed said of leaving college early.

Of the 14 players on the Thunder's regular-season roster, only three completed their collegiate eligibility — Nick Collison at Kansas, Eric Maynor at Virginia Commonwealth and Royal Ivey at Texas (see chart).

The Thunder's starting lineup totals just three years of college.

Guard Thabo Sefolosha played for a pro team in Switzerland at age 17 and remained overseas until he was drafted five years later.

Forward Serge Ibaka was a child of war in the Republic of Congo, had a limited education and didn't play his first organized ball until age 16.

Center Kendrick Perkins went to the NBA straight out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas.

All-Star forward Kevin Durant left Texas after his freshman season.

All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook left UCLA after his sophomore season.

Circumstances vary for every prospect, particularly those from overseas. Other players were so highly regarded the decision to jump early was fairly obvious.

Durant was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2007 draft, Westbrook was chosen No. 4 in 2008 and James Harden was chosen No. 3 in 2009 after his sophomore season at Arizona State.

Had there been an expiring CBA the same year they decided to join the league, would any other Thunder underclassmen still have declared for the NBA Draft?

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THUNDER U

Thunder players and when they turned pro:

PLAYER (AGE); CLASS; SCHOOL/COUNTRY

Thabo Sefolosha (17); Secondary school; Switzerland

Serge Ibaka (18); unknown; Republic of Congo

Kendrick Perkins (18); High school; Beaumont, Texas

Kevin Durant (18); Freshman; Texas

James Harden (19); Sophomore; Arizona State

Russell Westbrook (19); Sophomore; UCLA

Daequan Cook (20); Freshman; Ohio State

Byron Mullens (20); Freshman; Ohio State

Nazr Mohammed (20); Junior; Kentucky

Nate Robinson (21); Junior; Washington

Cole Aldrich (21); Junior; Kansas

FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE

Nick Collison (22); Senior; Kansas

Eric Maynor (22); Senior; Virginia Commonwealth

Royal Ivey (22); Senior; Texas

Note: Guard/forward Robert Vaden, who was added to the Thunder's postseason roster, played two years of college ball at Indiana and two years at Alabama-Birmingham.

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