KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kalin Lucas' rehab from a torn Achilles' tendon was ahead of schedule, enough that he'd likely be ready for the start of NBA training camp. His stock was still high despite the injury, putting him among the nation's best guards.
Lucas just couldn't do it. Couldn't enter his name in the NBA draft. He wanted to come back to Michigan State for a chance to finish what he couldn't at the past two NCAA tournaments.
The decision makes Lucas an anomaly.
Fueled by the get-rich-now attitude and uncertainty about the NBA's labor situation, a record wave of college hoops players have decided to leave school early in hopes of getting paid.
The others? Not so much.
"It's crazy," Lucas said. "With some of the guys, I've thought, 'Why are they putting their name in the draft?'"
This leave-before-you're-done trend has been going on for a while. Players have been trading pencils for Porsches since Spencer Haywood sued for the right to leave college early in 1972.
It really took off in 1976, when the NBA discarded its financial hardship rule and instituted its current early-entry policy. That first year had 13 players leave school early, including Notre Dame's Adrian Dantley and Norman Cook of Kansas.
The numbers remained relatively flat until the mid-1990s, when it seemed none of the best players wanted to stay in school. The skip-college-altogether movement was next, followed by one-and-done after the NBA started requiring players to spend at least one year in college.
Not all have had the success they expected. For every Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett or Kevin Durant, there were players like St. John's Omar Cook and high schoolers Lenny Cooke and Jonathan Bender who never quite reached the prize they had hoped.
This year could have a whole new batch of failed gambles.
Initially, 103 players, including 23 from overseas, declared for the June 24 NBA draft. The NBA's deadline for pulling out of the draft is June 14, but a new NCAA rule required players to decide by May 8 if they wanted to return to their school.
Twenty-nine players backed out of the draft before that deadline, leaving a record 74 non-seniors available. The previous high for early entries was 57 in 2005.
Based on recent history, many of them will be disappointed on draft day.
Of the 49 early-entry players who stayed in last year's draft, 17 went undrafted, leaving them with the choice of trying to play their way onto a team in training camp, hit the NBA Development League or go overseas.
More early-entry players this year will likely mean more disillusionment.
"You've got some bad advice on some players," said Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting.
Some of it stems from the flux of the NBA labor situation.
The NBA's collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2010-11 season and a lockout is a distinct possibility. Even if the owners and NBA Players Association find a way to make nice, the rookie salary scale will likely be drastically reduced, perhaps by as much as 30 percent.
The uncertain future has sent college players, many of whom might not be ready, rushing toward the exits.
"A lot of advisers have tried to talk players out of school on the notion the collective bargaining agreement is coming up in 2011 and you must get out now, which is a ridiculous ploy," Blake said. "If you don't get drafted and you don't make a team, you're not going to get paid this year or next year, if you're really thinking there's going to be a lockout."
The chances of making a team are going to be tougher.
This year's draft class is one of the deepest in recent years, loaded with game-changing talent — Wall, Turner, Wall's teammate DeMarcus Cousins, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors — at the top and solid all the way through. And with so many underclassmen jumping into the get-paid-to-play fray, there will be fewer roster spots available and more players scrambling to find work.
"There's obviously going to be a lot of underclassmen who are not going to get drafted, not make teams," Blake said. "If you think about it, there are only 30 guaranteed contracts. Clearly, there was some bad advice out there."
Sometimes, though, the advice only goes so far. For all the talk about lockouts, rookie salary caps and the chance at life-altering money, the decision to go or stay comes from the gut, from reaching for a since-you-were-little goal.
"It's not at all about the money for me, it's about trying to pursue a dream that I've had my whole life," said Butler star Gordon Hayward, who opted to leave after leading the Bulldogs to the 2010 national title game as a sophomore. "That (labor situation) is something you have to look at, but it's not something that's a big factor at all."
That's the same way Lucas looked at it. He just came up with a different conclusion.