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June 25, 2009

Some guys are easier to replace than others

NBA teams rely on potential more than production when they make their draft picks each year. That means some of the top guys who'll be selected Thursday night in the NBA draft weren't necessarily All-America performers in college.

For example, UCLA guard Jrue Holiday is a near-certain lottery pick despite averaging 8.5 points per game in his lone season in college. USC forward DeMar DeRozan, another likely lottery pick, was named the most outstanding player in the Pac-10 tournament only after a so-so regular season.

Of course, there also are plenty of examples of guys who have outstanding track records to go along with enormous potential. Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin demonstrated all season why the Los Angeles Clippers should take him with the No. 1 overall pick.

As the NBA prepares for its draft, we put together a list of the 10 draft picks who could prove most difficult to replace while also breaking down how their former college teams will try to cope without them. The players are listed in the order in which we expect them to get drafted.

Oklahoma F Blake Griffin: The most dominant player in college basketball last season also figures to be the toughest guy to replace. Griffin led the nation last year with 14.4 rebounds per game; the Sooners don't return anyone who averaged more than 3.2 boards per game. Willie Warren should pick up some of the scoring slack while helping make Oklahoma a more perimeter-oriented team, but the Sooners will need incoming freshmen Keith Gallon and Andrew Fitzgerald to make an instant impact in the frontcourt. Gallon, a 6-foot-8 center, is the No. 9 prospect in the nation. Fitzgerald, a 6-9 center, is the nation's No. 70 recruit.

Connecticut C Hasheem Thabeet: Connecticut also figures to rely more on its backcourt after losing Thabeet the two-time national defensive player of the year along with solid power forward Jeff Adrien. The Huskies plan to replace one 7-footer with another. Charles Okwandu, a 7-1 junior from Nigeria, could open the year in the starting lineup despite playing a total of 45 minutes last season. Connecticut's frontcourt depth could hinge on the availability of 6-10 forward Ater Majok. Although Majok pulled his name from consideration for the NBA draft, he hasn't ruled out the possibility of pursuing a pro career in Europe instead of returning to school.

Arizona State G James Harden: Harden, the first consensus first-team All-America in Arizona State history, averaged 20.1 points per game last season. His departure leaves the Sun Devils without anyone who averaged more than 10.3 points. Arizona State still has talent and experience on the perimeter. The Sun Devils' top returning scorer is junior swingman Rihards Kuksiks. Derek Glasser is back as the starting point guard. The Sun Devils also hope guard Ty Abbott's late-season surge carries over to next season. But none of those guys can offer anything close to what Harden provided the past two seasons.

Memphis G Tyreke Evans: The departure of coach John Calipari and a highly touted recruiting class have garnered more attention, but Evans' loss shouldn't be overlooked. Evans led the Tigers with 17.1 points per game last season and capped his career with a 33-point performance in a 102-91 West Regional semifinal loss to Missouri. Evans' early exit leaves Memphis without many proven ballhandlers beyond senior guard Willie Kemp, though swingman Wesley Witherspoon could move to the backcourt full-time.

Davidson G Stephen Curry: The best shooter in college basketball had a legitimate chance of passing Pete Maravich as the NCAA's leading career scorer if he had stayed in school for his senior season. Davidson now has to figure out a way to win without Curry or Andrew Lovedale, who led the Wildcats in rebounding and ranked second in scoring. Davidson's top returning scorer is swingman William Archambault, who averaged just 8.3 points per game last season.

Syracuse G Jonny Flynn: Brandon Triche may have the toughest assignment of any true freshman in the Big East. He likely will open his career by replacing likely lottery pick Flynn as Syracuse's starting point guard. Triche lacks Flynn's speed and penetrating ability, but he's a solid distributor who should be able to set things up for more experienced teammates such as Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Andy Rautins. If Triche's name sounds familiar, there's a reason: He's the nephew of Howard Triche, a member of Syracuse's 1987 NCAA runner-up team.

Pittsburgh C DeJuan Blair: Pitt's frontcourt next season will have a whole new look following the departures of Blair, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs. Young may have been the nation's best pure small forward and Biggs also was a fine player, but the loss of Blair could sting the most. He developed into one of college basketball's top rebounders particularly on the offensive end during his two-year college career. The most likely starter at center is 6-10 junior Gary McGhee, who averaged 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds as a reserve last season. True freshman Dante Taylor, a 6-8 power forward rated as the No. 14 prospect in the nation, could step right into the starting lineup at power forward.

North Carolina G Ty Lawson: Although North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough had the better college career and could be the first Tar Heel drafted, we put Lawson on this list instead because he likely will be tougher to replace. North Carolina still has plenty of talent in the frontcourt with Deon Thompson and Ed Davis, who could be one of the first five picks in next year's draft. Neither will get to the foul line nearly as often as Hansbrough, but both should contend for All-ACC honors and could receive All-America consideration. The Tar Heels aren't nearly as deep at point guard. Sophomore Larry Drew II will get a chance to win the job, but he averaged less than 10 minutes per game last season.

Virginia Commonwealth G Eric Maynor: VCU stunned Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament and nearly upset UCLA in last season's tourney because of Maynor, who ended his college career as the Rams' career leader in points and assists. The Rams aren't totally bereft in the backcourt without Maynor. Joey Rodriguez shared the ballhandling responsibilities with Maynor last season and averaged 2.5 assists per game (Maynor had 6.2 per game). Rodriguez returns this season and should benefit from his 2008-09 experience. VCU also is bringing in three freshman guards, with Darius Theus the most likely newcomer to earn immediate playing time.

Florida G Nick Calathes: Although Calathes already has signed a contract with a Greek pro team, he is expected to get drafted by an NBA team that is willing to wait a season or two for him to return to the United States. Calathes led the Gators in points (17.2) and assists (6.4) last season, and his departure leaves Florida searching for guys who can run the offense. Erving Walker played the point at times last season, but he's more of a perimeter shooter than a distributor despite his size (he's 5 feet 8). Florida should benefit from the arrival of five-star prospect Kenny Boynton the No. 12 prospect in the nation but he's more of a shooting guard than a point guard.

World University Games roster set

Conventional wisdom suggests the Big East is headed for a rebuilding season after sending two teams to the Final Four last season. A look at the United States' World University Games roster tells a different story.

The Big East has three representatives on the 12-man team to tie the Big Ten among all conferences. Big East players to make the team are West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler, Villanova guard Corey Fisher and Marquette forward Lazar Hayward.

Oklahoma State swingman James Anderson, Penn State guard Talor Battle, Clemson forward Trevor Booker, Iowa State forward Craig Brackins, Purdue forward Robbie Hummel, Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, North Carolina forward Deon Thompson, Ohio State forward Evan Turner and Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado filled out the roster.

Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson, USF guard Dominique Jones, Illinois center Mike Tisdale and Arizona guard Nic Wise also tried out. Illinois forward Mike Davis withdrew from consideration after breaking his ankle before tryouts, while Kansas guard Sherron Collins decided not to try out because of a family matter.

"It was one of the most difficult decisions we as a committee have had because the team is so balanced," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, the chair of the USA Basketball men's junior national team committee. "It's probably one of the better groups of wing players we have had, and all the guys are great players."

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan will coach the U.S. team with assistance from Miami's Frank Haith and Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Rob Jeter. The World University Games take place July 2-11 in Belgrade, Serbia.

No hard feelings

USC's surprising decision to hire Kevin O'Neill seemed likely to spice up the Trojans' rivalry with Arizona. After all, O'Neill served as Arizona's interim coach during the 2007-08 season with the idea that he would become Lute Olson's successor. Those plans changed in the summer of 2008, when Olson briefly returned to coaching and removed O'Neill from his staff.

But O'Neill put a damper on that speculation this week by insisting he had no hard feelings about his departure from Arizona. The Wildcats went 19-15 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in O'Neill's lone season on the job.

"I don't think I was [treated unfairly]," O'Neill said "I think Lute deserved the opportunity to come back and be the coach. He earned that over 24 years there, and he earned that with a Hall of Fame career. If you notice, a lot of people said things after I left. I didn't say anything. I don't have any ill will or bad feelings. Plus, I ended up at a better job."

Tip-ins

Duke figured to enter the season as one of the most talented and experienced teams in the ACC, but the Blue Devils have a big hole in the backcourt now that that sophomore guard Elliot Williams has chosen to transfer to a school closer to his hometown of Memphis. Williams averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last year, but those numbers don't accurately measure his production and potential. Williams barely played early in the ACC season, but he moved into the starting lineup late in the year and helped Duke surge into the postseason. Duke's only returning guards are Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. Former Liberty guard Seth Curry has announced plans to transfer to Duke, but he won't be eligible until the 2010-11 season.

The most pleasant surprise of the 2009-10 season may have already taken place. Less than two weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, BYU coach Dave Rose said Wednesday that he plans to coach the Cougars this season. Scott Samuelson of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City indicated Rose's cancer is in remission and won't require chemotherapy. "This has been as difficult as anything I have ever been through," Rose said, "but I feel like I got a second chance, and this is my time and I'm ready to go."

The guys on the World University Games roster aren't the only college players representing the United States this summer. Washington State forward DeAngelo Casto, Duke guard Seth Curry, Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs, Butler forward Gordon Hayward, Butler guard Shelvin Mack, Kentucky forward Darius Miller, UTEP center Arnett Moultrie, Northwestern forward John Shuma, Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, Georgia forward Trey Thompkins, Washington State guard Klay Thompson and Ole Miss guard Terrico White were selected to the U.S. roster for the FIBA under-19 World Championships that will take place July 2-12 in Auckland, New Zealand. Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon will coach that team with assistance from Purdue's Matt Painter and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery.

UCLA forward Drew Gordon partially tore the patellar tendon in his right knee last week while trying out for the under-19 team, but the injury won't require surgery and shouldn't affect his status for the 2009-10 season.

The return of Craig Brackins has given Iowa State high hopes for the upcoming season, which is evident from the Cyclones' announcement this week that they will play a Jan. 6 game with Duke at the United Center in Chicago. The neutral site game represents a homecoming for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a Chicago native. It also provides an opportunity for Iowa State's 10,000 alumni in the Chicago area to watch the Cyclones without leaving home. Iowa State plans to play a total of three games in Chicago next season.

As Minnesota prepares to unveil a new floor at the 81-year-old Williams Arena, pieces of the old floor are for sale. Prices for plaques with pieces of the floor range from $45 to $200. Anyone interested should go on www.gophersports.com or call Jostens at 1-800-523-0124.

Utah's Mountain West title has resulted in a bonus for the players. Utes coach Jim Boylen announced this week that he would return the players' names to the back of their jerseys. Boylen removed the names and instead put the word "Utah" on the back of the jerseys before the 2007-08 season. "I feel that our players have earned the right to have their names back on their jerseys," he said.

When the Los Angeles Clippers take Blake Griffin in the NBA draft, he will become the second Griffin brother to get selected with the top overall pick in a draft this month. The Harlem Globetrotters took Oklahoma forward Taylor Griffin with the top pick in their first player "draft" last week. The Globetrotters also took New Mexico guard Tony Danridge, Charlotte forward Charlie Coley and American guard Derrick Mercer as well as Tim Howard, a former basketball player who now is the goalkeeper for the U.S. men's national soccer team. Danridge finished first and Coley second in the slam-dunk contest that took place before the Final Four. All the players drafted earned an invitation to the Globetrotters' training camp in Sayville, N.Y., though they're expected to explore NBA opportunities first.

North Carolina fans making the trip to Chapel Hill for the Sept. 5 football season opener with The Citadel should arrive on campus early. North Carolina is honoring the 100th year of its basketball program by scheduling a Sept. 4 alumni game at the Dean Dome featuring former Tar Heels now playing in the pros. The $20 tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m., and proceeds will benefit the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and UNC Children's Hospitals.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will be working as an NBA draft analyst for NBA TV and NBA.com on Thursday night.

Former Oklahoma star Wayman Tisdale died of cancer last month at the age of 44, but school officials have found a way to assure his name will live on. The Oklahoma Board of Regents unanimously approved a plan to name the school's planned specialty clinic at North Tulsa, Okla., in Tisdale's honor. Construction begins later this year on the Wayman Tisdale Health Clinic, a 50,000-square-foot, $20 million facility.

There won't be any Michael Jordan sightings in the stands at Illinois games next season. Jeff Jordan, the son of the former NBA legend, has decided to give up basketball to focus on academics. Jordan walked on at Illinois and eventually earned a scholarship last season. He earned letters each of his two seasons as a reserve guard and averaged 8.4 minutes per game last season, though he never scored more than five points in a game.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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