John Smallwood | Leave school? Of course


Posted: March 20, 2007

KEVIN DURANT was right.

Asking the University of Texas superstar freshman if he had played his last college game was not "an appropriate question right now," moments after his first collegiate season ended

Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

I know fans in down-in-the-dumps NBA cities like Memphis, Boston and, of course, Philadelphia, are desperate to know if their lottery dreams are going to be enhanced with the possibility of a franchise-changing prospect entering the draft. But give the kid some time to lick his wounds.

Cynics would say Durant was just being coy when he continued, "I'm just worried about this team and what we can be next year as a team," but I believed him.

But I believe in the minutes after the Longhorns were wiped out by Southern California, 87-68, Durant was still thinking like a disappointed collegiate athlete and not a future multimillion-dollar professional.

In the coming weeks, once March Madness is over and the national championship has been decided, there will be plenty of time for Durant, Ohio State freshman Greg Oden, North Carolina freshman Brandan Wright, Kansas sophomore Julian Wright, Florida juniors Joakim Noah and Al Horford, and any other collegiate superstar underclassman projected as a lottery pick to weigh their options and come to the logical decision to enter the NBA draft.

What? You thought I'd say, "Stay in school. Enjoy the college experience and polish your skills for another season." In a perfect world, maybe.

In this world, however, where becoming an NBA lottery pick is an opportunity for lifelong financial security, there is no other logical decision.

Undoubtedly, Texas fans are looking to read between the lines, find any phrasing that might suggest Durant would shun millions of guaranteed dollars - just with his NBA contract alone - to spend another year in Austin.

So when Durant said, "I want a national championship. I'm not going to settle for a second-round loss," and, "I love college. I'm trying for a 4.0 [grade-point average]," you could hear the UT hopeful yelling, "Hook 'em, 'Horns."

Those are the same selfish hopes in Columbus, Ohio, Chapel Hill, N.C., or wherever a talented underclassman has a legitimate shot at being a lottery pick.

It's not even a close race.

The decision facing Durant and Oden - the consensus choices as the top two picks - is a no-brainer of no-brainers.

Take the money. If you want the education, it will always be there.

Having spent 4 1/2 years at the University of Maryland, I understand the benefits of college - continuing education, maturing socially, expanding horizons, etc.

I'd have traded them all to be a lottery pick.

While it's true that money can't buy happiness, anyone who can't live happily with the money a top NBA draft pick will make probably was never going to be very happy anyway.

People go to college to get an education and maximize their earning potential.

Durant, Oden, 7-foot Washington freshman Spencer Hawes, Georgia Tech freshman Thaddeus Young, Arizona freshman Chase Budinger and a few others like them are blessed with the ability to play basketball and get paid more than rocket scientists or brain surgeons.

Basketball is their major. Once NBA scouts start guaranteeing you'll be a lottery pick, it's time to move on to graduate school.

That's especially true for Durant and Oden.

One is going to be picked No. 1 and the other is going be No. 2.

Their stock can never get any higher than it is today - even if they spend 4 years in college.

The risk isn't in coming out. It's in staying.

A serious injury, a subpar sophomore season or simply some hotshot prospect from Europe emerging as the next big thing could hurt their stock and cost them millions of dollars.

Minutes after losing in the NCAA Tournament was not the appropriate time to ask Durant if he had played his last college game.

Give him a couple weeks, when the emotions have calmed. Then he'll be thinking logically and say, "Yes." It's the only answer that makes sense. *

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