As Cory Jefferson strolled across the field with his NIT-winning teammates, fans honoring them at Baylor’s spring football scrimmage chanted, “One more year, one more year.”
Isaiah Austin has heard similar pleas from fans as he’s walked around the Baylor campus.
Anybody who has a stake in Baylor basketball would love to see Jefferson and Austin play for the Bears next season instead of declaring for the NBA draft. With the two big men in the fold, Baylor would likely be a top-15 team in the preseason polls.
By April 28, Jefferson and Austin will have to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. For both players, it won’t be simple.
Watching NBA draft projections is similar to tracking the stock market. Many ups, many downs, and frequent swings.
In recent mock drafts, Austin has been all over the board. He’s projected to be picked 15th in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks by DraftExpress.com and 24th by the New York Knicks by ESPN’s Chad Ford. NBADraftNet.com has Austin slipping all the way down to the second round to 33rd overall by the Phoenix Suns.
Earlier projections had Austin going higher in the first round. A mock draft by CBSSports.com had Jefferson going 40th three weeks ago, but some recent mock drafts don’t include him at all.
The 7-1 Austin has all the skills to play in the NBA. There aren’t many big men who can handle the ball like him or step outside and bury a 3-pointer like a guard. The freshman’s post skills are also well honed and he’s displayed some great footwork around the basket.
But there’s no question that Austin needs to pack some muscle on his slim 220-pound frame. Though he’s aggressive and unafraid to mix it up with big men in the paint, he’d look a lot more NBA-ready at 240 pounds. Another year of college
basketball would certainly help him build his body to withstand the rigors of a grueling NBA season.
Though it seems likely that Austin’s stock would rise next season, history has shown there’s no guarantee. Forward Perry Jones was a projected lottery pick after his freshman year at Baylor in 2011 but he decided he needed another year of college basketball and came back to help the Bears reach the 2012 Elite Eight.
Jones dropped to the 28th pick in the first round by Oklahoma City last year. Yet it still might be a blessing in disguise since there’s no immediate pressure on Jones and he can develop his talents behind stars like Kevin Durant on a premier team.
1st year as a starter
After three years as a role player in Scott Drew’s program, the 6-9 Jefferson finally got his shot to start this year and looked quite comfortable in the spotlight. Jefferson averaged 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 61 percent from the field.
Taking advantage of superb point guard play by Pierre Jackson, Jefferson played his best basketball of the season in Baylor’s NIT championship run as he averaged 21.2 points and shot 71.9 percent from the field in five wins.
Jefferson has developed into a strong, assertive player who can throw down vicious slams to complement a dependable jump shot. Playing four years of college basketball worked wonders for a guy who came to Baylor from Killeen with a skinny frame. Though it was tough for him to redshirt in 2010-11, the work he did in Baylor’s strength program has paid off handsomely.
Like Austin, Jefferson could probably raise his draft stock with another season. He slipped onto the NBA scouts’ radar this season, but he could explode as a senior next season. The question Jefferson has to grapple with is whether he wants to spend another year in college since he’s on track to graduate this semester.
Leave emotions out
The trap that Austin and Jones don’t want to fall into is the one that Quincy Miller faced last year. After a solid freshman season, Miller originally announced he was returning for his sophomore year and then changed his mind.
Miller wasn’t picked until 38th by the Denver Nuggets, and spent most of this season in the NBA Development League with the Iowa Energy. The 6-10 forward has played 22 minutes in six games for the Nuggets, scoring five points and grabbing a lone rebound.
As Drew has recruited more NBA-level players in the last few years, he’s encouraged them to take their time to decide their future. Drew and his coaching staff gather all the information they can find from NBA sources to help them make the best decision.
“The first thing you don’t want to make is an emotional decision,” Drew said. “You want to gather information and look at where you’re projected to be drafted which you can do with the NBA advisory committee. Obviously, coaches talk to general managers and find out what their thoughts are.”
Many college underclassmen have tossed their names in the NBA pool, and Austin and Jefferson know the clock is ticking. They’re taking their time because it’s a difficult decision that will affect their future and a lot of people around them.