Austin, we hardly knew ye.
In testing the National Basketball Association draft waters, Gonzaga’s Austin Daye is officially somewhere between a toe-dip and a cannonball, but there certainly is a damned big puddle on the pool deck.
Or for those of you on a no-metaphor diet: he’s gone.
OK, not quite. One last weekend remains until college underclassmen who have declared for the draft reach the point of no return. Daye apparently will use all the time he’s allowed, but not to stew over the decision. In an interview Thursday with the Associated Press after a workout with the Charlotte Bobcats, Daye was asked if it was reasonable to assume that he won’t be returning to Gonzaga.
“Oh yeah,” he said.
There’s hardly a need to read between the lines when there’s only one line.
“I have a feeling things look good for me right now,” Daye told the AP. “Me and my adviser, my father, have been talking and I feel comfortable (that he’ll be drafted) in the 1-20 range, so we’ll see how it goes.”
And so we stagger to the end of maybe the strangest – or is that most strained? – episode in the limited sparring the Zags have done with the NBA’s early-entry animal.
Gonzaga has now lost three players that way – Paul Rogers and Adam Morrison preceding Daye – and had two come back (Ronny Turiaf and Jeremy Pargo). Turiaf’s protracted soul search caused the most angst in the fan fellowship, a combination of where the program was in its evolution and his considerable charisma.
Daye’s odyssey, by comparison, evoked either indifference or incredulity, though blessedly scattered pockets of well-wishers can be found, too.
At Gonzaga, his departure after just two seasons is likely to be assessed in multiple ways.
Life goes on. The program is bigger than any one player. The good and great have left every year and the Zags always find their way back to the bracket. Perhaps there is even a lack of regret, though it likely will remain unspoken.
But the Zags will also be without a potential 20-and-10 guy had Daye returned and played to his potential in a way he did not last season. With his nemesis from Saint Mary’s, Diamon Simpson, out of eligibility, no player in the West Coast Conference can guard him straight up. So Daye will not be easily or immediately replaced, no matter what his detractors insist.
It remains a hoot that so many opinions about Daye were based on visceral reaction to his on-court demeanor – the body language, petulance and immaturity that he did not bother to hide and, yes, sometimes let get in the way of his duty.
Damning stuff. So bad that some NBA team is going to make him a first-round pick, or so he’s been led to believe.
But the league has its own way of looking at things. Rare was the scout who traipsed through Spokane last winter and didn’t hiss, “Who’s he gonna guard?” when polled about Daye’s NBA prospects. Apparently they’ve all been fired or come down with laryngitis in the war room.
Is he ready? Of course not. Anymore, it’s an upset if even half the first-rounders are NBA ready – just one reason anyone who contends he’d be better served returning to college should go sell crazy elsewhere. It is a notion grounded in an outdated faith.
Not that it’s been a wholly satisfying chapter.
Daye is a bright, engaging kid with baggage only the son of a former NBA player can bring. For all his appeal, he was a temp here and the impression was – and maybe it’s an unfair one – that the name on the front of the uniform didn’t mean as much to him as it has to some of his predecessors.
Yes, it can certainly be argued that any time the Zags send another player to the NBA it’s a great recruiting tool, for they will not keep the same competitive company if talent like Daye doesn’t keep showing up on campus.
But this is the closest to a one-and-done Gonzaga has had, and the experience is a little empty. The Zags like to insist there is something special and different about their program, and there has been. This felt more like a business transaction. A little more of it all does, with each passing day.
Probably can’t be helped. And the rewards being what they are, maybe you wouldn’t want to.
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