BURLISON: Next season's number one

I hate to pile on but Kelenna Azubuike's decision to sign with an agent at the same time he entered his name into the NBA draft early-entry pool wasn't a sound one in terms of the best interests to his career as a professional player.

Connecticut or Duke would seem to be the most likely choices to be 1-2 – or vice versa – in a consensus of preseason Top 25s for the 2005-06 season.

The preseason hyperbole scales were tipped in the Huskies’ favor last week when the school announced, with quotes from the players in the release, that sophomore Josh Boone and freshman Rudy Gay would return for Coach Jim Calhoun’s club next season.

Both, if they had discovered that the idea of writing term papers and essays in Blue Books no longer held much appeal to them, could have opted to enter the NBA draft pool and it’s a relatively safe assumption that they would have been chosen well before Commissioner David Stern strides to the podium in Madison Square Garden and said ``With the 11th pick, the (fill in the blank NBA franchise) takes (fill in the blank college, high school or foreign player)”.

The Blue Devils will be Connecticut’s biggest competition in the preseason ratings wars, assuming Shelden Williams elects to play a senior season for Mike Krzyzewski and Josh McRoberts makes good on the letter of intent he signed with the program in November.

After that, though, trying to piece together a preseason Top 10 that you would feel comfortable with in the summer is a no-go until we’re as definitive as possible about what rosters are going to look like in November.

Let’s face it: Until May 14 (the deadline for college underclassmen and high school seniors to declare for early-entry status in the June 28 NBA draft) and then June 21 (the deadline for those same players to withdraw from the draft pool and retain college eligibility), we can only make assumptions of what many, if not most, of the rosters of the teams under strongest consideration of Top 10 status are going to be made up of.

BOUNCING AROUND THE NATION

As had been long anticipated – as in, since well before the start of the season – by the program’s coaching staff, guard Nate Robinson announced Monday that he is surrendering his final season of eligibility at the University of Washington.

The level of success the Huskies attain next season depends heavily on the NBA decisions of junior swingman Brandon Roy and Seattle Prep senior Martell Webster. If Roy returns as a senior and the 6-foot-6 Webster decides to play at least a freshman season for Coach Lorenzo Romar, they would be no worse than co-favorites (with Stanford, assuming Dan Grunfeld recovers from ACL surgery and two-time All-Conference point guard Chris Hernandez pulls his name off the draft-eligible list by June 21) to win the Pacific 10 Conference title.

Webster would fill the same kind of role – meaning, he’d be called upon for a healthy dose of playmaking responsibilities – that Francisco Garcia had with Louisville.

The Robinson and Hernandez announcements were just the first of what should be a flurry of college underclassmen and high school players to say that they are entering the draft.

As soon as this week we could hear definitively that at least two (guards Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton) and possibly all four (Final Four Most Outstanding Player Sean May and freshman Marvin Williams) underclassmen played their final games in North Carolina uniforms on April 4 when the Tar Heels knocked off Illinois in the national championship game in St. Louis.

NBA talent evaluators and draft-night decision makers now also expect Wake Forest sophomore Chris Paul and Illinois junior Deron Williams to announce that they, too, have played their final games. They would be the first guards selected in the draft – and it’s not a lock that they would be picked in that order, either. At least one long-time NBA scouting director likes Williams’ point guard potential better than Paul’s.

Greg Paulus (Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy) turned in his second impressive post-season performance while helping the U.S. team past its international counterparts in the Nike Hoop Summit Saturday night in Memphis.

He’s proven himself as the best “true” (think run the team, make the proper passes, then, if need be, look for his own shot) point guard in the Class of 2005 and – although I’m sure Sean Dockery isn’t going to concede a thing – should start at the position immediately for Duke.

And, if Sean May and Marvin Williams are in NBA uniforms in 2005-06, Tyler Hansbrough (Poplar Bluff, Mo., High) demonstrated in the game why he could lead North Carolina in rebounding and maybe scoring as a freshman. Mix him in with May and Williams and the Tar Heels will have the best trio of post players on a college team.

I hate to pile on but Kelenna Azubuike’s decision to sign with an agent at the same time he entered his name into the NBA draft early-entry pool wasn’t a sound one in terms of the best interests to his career as a professional player. Forget speculation about Azubuike probably not being chosen in the first round on June 28: I’m not sure he gets drafted at all. With another spring and summer of individual work on his passing, shooting and ball-handling skills, along with another season at the University of Kentucky under Coach Tubby Smith, Azubuike might have evolved into a late first-round selection, especially if that much discussed possible 20-year-old rule becomes a part of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA Players Association and the league (and holds up to possible legal challenge).

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