Anticipation for the 2014 NBA Draft has been building for some time. With so much talent — including clear one-and-doners who would have jumped to the big leagues right away if they could, like Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins — and so many teams stocking up on draft picks rather than notches in the win column, this season will probably go down as “that year everyone was already thinking about the year after.”
But what if the 2014 draft class isn’t nearly as impressive as we’d hoped? What if some of the guys we expected to see in the NBA next year actually returned to school? It’s always a possibility, but rarely do players with great promise give up on the chance to cash in quickly. But we might have two kids already planning to do just that.
First is Jabari Parker, who goes to Duke. Sam Smith of Bulls.com writes that “NBA executives” don’t expect Parker to leave Duke after just one year. The reasons being:
Chicagoan Jahlil Okafor, a Parker friend and big man, is going to Duke next season. Parker is a bright young man with a strong family and the feeling is he understands both the importance of education and feels he owes Duke and the chance to have a great Duke team, which more than likely is the next two seasons. Plus, Parker has seen what staying in school has done for other greats compared with the tough starts for even stars like Kobe Bryant…
Parker, known for his devout Mormon faith and his humbleness, would be a rare NBA-level talent that feels just as strongly about succeeding at the college level as he does at the professional one. Whether or not that’s a smart decision in the long-run (or in the short-term, since he’s already considered a top-five pick in 2014) remains to be seen.
The other big name belongs to a guy who nobody had heard of before the season: Joel Embiid, a seven-footer from Cameroon is now at or near the top of everybody’s draft boards, because a) you can’t teach height and b) the things you can teach, Embiid is getting good at. He’s expected to be taken ahead of Kansas teammate Wiggins, because Wiggins looks really raw and Embiid is being compared to Greg Oden, but in a good way.
Only problem: Embiid doesn’t sound emotionally ready to go to the NBA, and he believes big men should stay for more than a year. Via Dana O’Neil’s profile on ESPN.com:
He can’t drive a car.
He’s tried to learn at least four times, but every time the Cameroonian slides behind the wheel, he gets nervous, his heart racing to the point of a panic attack. The last time he tried, a few months ago now, he headed to a parking lot with a friend. Embiid started to drive around and then he spied a police car making a routine drive-by while patrolling the area.
“It wasn’t good,” Embiid said in his French-accented English. “I was like, ‘What should I do?’ I completely panicked. It was crazy.”
Embiid has been researching big men lately. Not the way he used to, back when he was trying to learn the game and used tapes of Hakeem Olajuwon as video tutorials. No, he’s been looking at the game’s best and surveying their college tenures:
Olajuwon, three years; Tim Duncan, four; Shaquille O’Neal, two.
“I was curious because I want to be great, I want to be the best at my position one day,” he said. “I’m trying to learn everything and what other people did. All of the great big men went to college at least two or three years. I think it’s a big factor. I don’t know if it will always work, but I think it’s the best choice.”
Neither player has expressed, one way or the other, whether they’d be back next fall. But let’s say they do stay in school. Is a top five of raw Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and some Europeans nearly as enticing as one with a game-changing big man and a transcendent, possible-legend-in-the-making wing player? Of course not. And in fact, if Wiggins and Smart continue their struggles, they too might find that staying in school another year is the best course of action (doubtful, but possible).
Maybe the Bucks should think twice before trying to flip Larry Sanders for draft picks; ditto for pretty much every other team in the Eastern Conference and the Jazz as well.
Photo via Getty