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Players’ NBA stock can rise, fall at tourney

SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2009

Let’s be honest.

A lot of astute college basketball fans, the kind who know their Horizon League from their MEAC, will pour all of their knowledge and intuition into the ideal bracket only to have it blown apart in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Then what?

Well, here’s a consolation game to play. When you’re eliminated and your best friend’s wife, who never watches college basketball, is still in the hunt, ask if she can name the two freshmen from Wake Forest who are likely to go in the lottery if they declare for the NBA draft.

Ask your next-door neighbor, who continues to rub defeat in your face, if he can name the college player pro scouts consider the best after Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin.

The NCAA tournament is about more than brackets. It’s about players improving their draft stock or convincing scouts they can play in the NBA.

Derrick Rose solidified his argument to be taken No. 1 by leading Memphis to the championship game last year. Clubs weren’t sure if Davidson’s Stephen Curry was an NBA talent 12 months ago.

Curry’s tournament performance assured he will be drafted, whenever he comes out.

It doesn’t matter how long the Sooners hang around in this year’s tournament. Griffin will be the first player taken if he decides to come out. He’s quick, strong and explosive around the rim and isn’t afraid of contact.

But what about teammate Willie Warren? The freshman guard is rising and has great offensive instincts. But he doesn’t handle the ball well and is a bit wild. A mid-first-rounder at the moment, he could be viewed as a lottery pick if he plays well and the Sooners make a run.

Arizona State’s James Harden has a good feel for the game. The sophomore guard could position himself behind Griffin with a good tournament. If Arizona makes the tournament, keep an eye on Jordan Hill. The junior forward is a solid top-five pick who can run the floor and play both ends of the court.

Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet is another top-five pick if he comes out. The junior center is a mobile 7-3 and a defensive force. Think Dikembe Mutombo.

Wake Forest has two talented freshmen in Al-Farouq Aminu and Jeff Teague. Aminu is a 6-8 point forward who can shoot off the dribble and is quick in the post. Teague is a combo guard who is deadly in transition and isn’t bad on defense. A good tournament would earn both lottery spots if they enter the draft.

Teammate James Johnson could also be part of the action. The sophomore forward is in the 20s at the moment, but he’s athletic and could move up.

Duke’s Gerald Henderson is also in the 20s, but he has shown dramatic improvement the last two months and knows how to play. If Duke makes any noise, it will be because of the 6-5 junior with Corey Maggette athletic ability.

Memphis’ Tyreke Evans, Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens and Louisville’s Terrance Williams and Earl Clark could all improve their stock and push some nagging questions aside in the next month.

Bracketology is only part of the fun.


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