A brief look at the Pac-12 top scorers list might scare the heck out of some conference coaches.
For some, it’s because of who they’ll have to face next year. For others, it’s because of who might leave.
Five of the top-10 scorers in the conference are juniors, and eight rank in the top 20. The carrot is dangling right in front of their eyes, a golden carrot, a 10-karat carrot, made up entirely of professional riches.
Stanford’s Chasson Randle could chase the dream. Oregon’s Joseph Young could determine he’s too old. Arizona’s Nick Johnson, USC’s Byron Wesley, Utah’s Delon Wright — all are, along with Randle and Young, some of the best players in the league.
But unlike seniors like Roberto Nelson and C.J. Wilcox, the conference’s top-two point producers, and ready-to-jump underclassmen like Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and freshmen Aaron Gordon of Arizona and Zach LaVine of UCLA, the decisions that juniors face have a whole other set of complexities.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle has a certain set of criteria he goes over with his potential pros.
“Where is he in terms of his stock, going to the next level, getting a guaranteed contract?” Boyle said. “You’re trying to do as much research as possible – that’s not done until after the season. But the No.1 thing you’ve got to say is you have to talk about it. It’s the elephant in the room if you don’t talk about it.”
Boyle might have one of the most stressful offseasons of any conference coach, with Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker both with one eye on the present and one on the future, though Dinwiddie’s torn ACL injury might derail immediate NBA plans.
“We’re still going to go through it with Spencer,” Boyle said. “Those hopes and dreams, they’re real. The carrot is so big. They can almost taste it. It’s very difficult to keep people grounded and sensible.”
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson was spared the heavy conversations last offseason, when Nelson let it be known early that he intended to return for his senior year. Robinson would’ve been frank with him, though, as he has been in the past.
Particularly with Jared Cunningham, who declared for the 2012 NBA draft in April 2012, after feeling confident he’d be a first-round pick. And he was, going No. 24 to Cleveland before being involved in a draft-day trade with Dallas.
“I’m an economist by training, so it just becomes a very economic decision in my eyes,” Robinson said. “I rarely have to talk guys off the ledge — Cunningham was a proven first-round pick, so when you have guaranteed money on the table, it’s hard to say no to that. Eric Moreland, he wasn’t a first-round pick, there wasn’t any guarantee, so my position is very clear. My sales pitch is pretty simple.”
Like Robinson, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was pardoned last season, when Wilcox decided to return for his senior year, even though he was a redshirt junior and has already graduated. His play has been critical for Washington, and in turn, he may have played himself into the first round this season, as he is averaging 19.6 points per game (second in conference) and a league-leading three three-pointers per game.
“I thought he and his family went about it the right way,” Romar said. “They took in the evaluations from the NBA, went through the process, consulted the undergraduate advisory committee to see where he could potentially go. The feedback was weighed by he and his family. He has his degree, he’s fine academically, but they felt he could come back this year and improve his stock.”
Just as Boyle is handling Dinwiddie’s decision with care, so too is Ken Bone, who has watched his Washington State star scorer DaVonte Lacy miss extended time in his junior year with a rash of medical issues.
A few short years ago, Bone watched as Klay Thompson’s stock soared and soared, and that made the decision to enter the NBA draft early easier. But not the letting go.
“Unfortunately I haven’t had a lot of guys go to the NBA, but I think any coach, we’re in the business to work with kids, and yeah it’s important to win games, but it’s about your players and what’s best for them,” Bone said. “If it’s the right time, and it’d be foolish not go to, they’ve got to go. They’ve got to go for it.”