Philadelphia, PA – There are a handful of college basketball's stars facing a very tough decision as the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft rapidly approaches.
This year's draft class is going to make it difficult on NBA general managers. Although there are plenty of prospects with potential, none of them stands out as a can't-miss pick the same way Tim Duncan and LeBron James did in their respective draft years. The majority of the players selected in the NBA Lottery will most likely be underclassmen and there are a few more marquee names still unsure whether they will enter the draft or return to school just days before the April 28 NBA deadline.
The following players will have their Twitter accounts monitored more than regularly until they announce whether they are staying or going:
Doug McDermott - Creighton had another tremendous campaign thanks to its 6- foot-8 junior forward. McDermott was named a First Team All-American for the second straight year after guiding the Blue Jays to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and conference tournament championships. If McDermott remains with Creighton, he will lead the program as it enters the new look Big East in the 2013-14 season.
A chance to shine on a bigger stage for an entire season could help propel McDermott's draft stock. He has shown great court instincts and a deadly accurate jump shot through the first three years of his college career. However, because of his lack of defining size or quickness, he is expected to struggle finding a position at the next level. Another year in Omaha, Neb., may be what McDermott needs to develop into a prototypical NBA small forward.
He is projected to be selected in the middle of the first round in this year's class and although another season at Creighton may propel him into the 2014 lottery, that may not be the best course of action.
McDermott is better suited to be a role player on a good team than a go-to-guy in a struggling offense. Falling to Oklahoma City, Boston or Chicago, who will all own a pick in the middle portion of the first round, would be beneficial for McDermott. Instead of having to carry a team on his back, he could focus on spotting up for open jumpers to reward Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose with assists.
The decision to jump now will most likely lessen McDermott's financial gains for his first professional contract as he is not equipped to defend top-caliber scorers, but the long term benefits of landing with a viable franchise will pay off.
Ray McCallum - Like McDermott, McCallum also elected to play at a mid-major school under his father's watch rather than test his abilities in a premier conference. McCallum was named the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2012-13 after guiding Detroit to the regular season crown. The 6-1 point guard has exhibited the ability to fill it up and contribute in other ways during his time as a Titan.
Due to the lack of superstars in this draft class, McCallum could play his way into the first round if he impresses enough during the preparatory phases of the process. He would have a tough time surpassing Trey Burke, Michael Carter- Williams and C.J. McCollum on most teams' draft boards, but Marcus Smart's decision to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season could make McCallum the fourth-most coveted point guard in the class should he decide to forego his final year of eligibility.
While there is little left for McCallum to accomplish at the collegiate level, another season in the Motor City may be beneficial. His shoot-first mentality is not going to yield the same type of results against elite defenders and there are better scorers currently on every NBA roster.
McCallum is an average playmaker, which is holding him back from being labeled as a complete player. Willie Green is the only player from Detroit since 2000 to have an extended stay in the NBA.
While McCallum has the potential to run a second unit the same way Eric Maynor has during his brief career, a victory lap is McCallum's best option if he hopes to have the same professional success.
Russ Smith - Most dream scenarios for aspiring basketball stars have winning an NCAA championship on the to-do list. Smith checked that chore off while serving as Louisville's most dangerous offensive player throughout its dominant march to Atlanta's net-cutting ceremonies. The undersized junior guard averaged 8.2 more points per game than anyone else on the squad, but had a forgettable 3-of-16 showing from the floor against Michigan in the title game.
Smith's poor performance against the Wolverines and their NBA-bound backcourt would have been easily overlooked if it was an isolated incident, but he was bottled up on multiple occasions during his junior year.
The lightning-quick scoring guard can be described as perseverant on the court. After going a combined 6-of-27 from the floor in his first two games against Notre Dame in 2012-13, Smith knocked down eight of his 14 field goal attempts against the Fighting Irish in the Big East Tournament.
Smith was nearly unstoppable on both ends of the court in Rick Pitino's up-tempo style of play due to his speed and anticipation. He is an effective slasher and thrives in the fast break on the collegiate level, but he has a long way to go to measure up to the NBA's current list of undersized off- guards such as Jason Terry and Lou Williams.
Smith is estimated to be a late second-round pick or go undrafted by most experts. Although he would most likely be given a spot to compete for a roster spot during an NBA training camp, it is in his best interest to return to Louisville to learn from one of the game's top coaches.
A return to Louisville also would give Smith the opportunity to gain valuable point guard experience with Peyton Siva no longer in the picture. Either way, Smith will have a noticeable chip on his shoulder the next time he steps onto the hardwood.
Isaiah Austin - Baylor ended its season on a positive note as it hoisted the NIT trophy at Madison Square Garden in early April. The moment may have been the last for Austin in a Bears uniform after one up-and-down season.
Basketball has always been a big man's game and Portland's selections of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden over Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, respectively, indicates how much NBA scouts value size.
Austin produced 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest in the final two rounds of the NIT to garner the interest of NBA teams. His consistently accurate shooting on mid-range and long-range attempts is attractive as it will make him a threat in most pick-and-roll offenses.
Austin shed the "one-dimensional" label as he developed a well-rounded offensive skill set during his freshman season. He was not the first option for the Bears last season due to senior point guard Pierre Jackson's presence in the lineup. Another year playing for Scott Drew as the focal point of an offense would force Austin to revamp his skills and play more aggressively, which would really attract the attention of NBA executives.
The Bears center can make an impact defensively as a shot blocker also with his seven-foot frame and length. He is only 19 years old, meaning he may not have reached his physical potential. However, Austin will have trouble inside against seasoned NBA post players.
His upgraded one-on-one moves on the offensive end are still not ready for the pros. Austin is a work in progress with a very high ceiling. Austin has the same frame as Anthony Davis and is more polished offensively than last year's top overall pick. While he is not on par with the former Kentucky standout defensively, Austin's rare combination of size, agility and court sense is very rare. He needs more time to mature before he can shine on the NBA level.
Shane Larkin (Miami-Florida) and Shabazz Napier (Connecticut) are both flirting with the idea of making the jump as well. Larkin was the driving force for the Hurricanes in their most successful season in school history and Napier kept UConn relevant in its first year without Jim Calhoun. The timing is not right for either floor general. The senior class was loaded with decorated point guards such as Isaiah Canaan (Murray State), Nate Wolters (South Dakota State) and Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's).
The NBA has never had a higher population of superstar-caliber point guards. Larkin and Napier would both benefit from another year before challenging the best in the business. Larkin entered Coral Gables as a three-star recruit before being named the ACC Player of the Year by the league's coaches at the end of his sophomore season. Napier also had a great year in 2012-13 under former NBA journeyman Kevin Ollie.
The risk of injury before the first NBA contract will always be there for college hoops stars who are weighing out their options. The risk of taking the next step prematurely has been just as devastating to many careers as well, although it tends to be more easily overlooked.