Decision time for Huskies' Ross and Wroten
Washington has a history of athletes who had to decide to stay in school or go pro
Or the Huskies might be back fumbling around in the dark, searching for a light switch. It all depends on a million-dollar decision or two.
If that sounds familiar, it's probably because UW has been here before.
The only thing that's become certain with UW athletics is that the future is uncertain. The decisions of basketball stars Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. to turn pro or come back for another year at UW are as familiar as the purple and gold uniforms. The most well-known athletes in the school's two most prominent programs -- football and basketball -- have been facing the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go-pro a lot recently.
"That means you're pretty successful and you're recruiting the right type of athlete," said UW football coach Steve Sarkisian, who has helped former stars Jake Locker and Chris Polk through the decision-making process in recent years.
Having athletes leave school early to pursue pro careers is nothing new to UW. And the school certainly has become familiar lately with decisions that have the propensity to change the entire face of a program. What the Husky football and men's basketball teams have learned recently is that life does go on.
And for the athletes, the decisions have worked out so far.
UW's Locker decided to pass up being a sure-fire top-10 pick in the 2010 NFL draft to return for his senior season. Locker went on to lead the Huskies to their first bowl game in eight years, then survived the roller-coaster ride of Mel Kiper Jr. projections to become the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
While Locker was preparing for draft day last spring, fellow UW star Isaiah Thomas of the Husky basketball team was weighing his own options. Thomas decided to leave after his junior season, creating a cacophony of what-the-bleep reactions from Husky Nation.
Then the 5-foot-7 guard sweated until the final pick of last June's draft before getting selected by Sacramento, and he's become the Kings' starting point guard -- with three double-doubles and five games of 20-plus points to show for it. It's conceivable, although unlikely because of his size, that Thomas could have improved his draft stock by coming back for his senior season at UW, but it's hard to believe he could be in a better situation in terms of playing time.
Running back Chris Polk announced in January that he'll be a part of next month's NFL draft, and now two more UW stars -- Ross and Wroten -- are weighing their options leading up to the June NBA draft. By April 10, when underclassmen have to make their decision on the upcoming NBA draft, the Huskies could have lost as many as four star athletes to early entry in the span of a year. Rival Washington State lost basketball stars Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to early entry last spring as well.
But this is no epidemic. This is just a sign of the times in college athletics.
In the cases of Wroten and Ross, the allure of professional athletics seems to be as magnetic as ever. Both players already have filed paperwork to start the process, although neither has firmly committed to a decision publicly. Wroten said 10 days ago that the pair planned to make a decision together, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll both be making the same decision together.
Wroten and Ross, who were the Huskies' two leading scorers this season, are both generally regarded as mid- to late-first-round picks. NBADraft.net projects Ross as the 18th overall selection, to Denver, and has Wroten going No. 26 overall, to Cleveland.
Both players expect to get a more firm grip of where they might be selected sometime this week, when the NBA gives informative draft feedback to interested players who have filed paperwork. Then the UW stars have until April 10 to decide whether to put their names into the draft -- they can later pull them out if they don't hire an agent.
Thomas went through a similar process this time last year, although he had a longer period in which to make his decision. Even before hiring an agent, Thomas told reporters he did not plan on returning to UW, and he eventually got selected by the Kings.
Countless examples of success stories on either side of the draft debate can be found in both basketball and football.
UW's Brandon Roy pulled his name out of the draft earlier in his career before having such a great senior season that he became the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft. Locker also became a high pick in the NFL draft despite turning his back on the process after his junior year -- even though most prognosticators believed that his draft stock could only go down. The same could be said for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who passed on the chance to be the top overall pick last April and is still projected to go No. 1 in this month's draft.
Then there are some current college basketball stars who have gone the other way. Players like Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Kentucky's Terrence Jones, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Baylor's Perry Jones III were considered top-five picks last year but decided to return to school and have dropped a few spots in mock drafts. Another year of college ball has only allowed NBA scouts to nit-pick their every flaw while a younger group of stars has emerged on the scene.
It's a decision that has no blanket right answer, nor a wrong one. And as UW fans have learned in recent years, life will go on.
The only thing the Huskies know is that the risk of losing players early is becoming a common trend that they wouldn't necessarily wish on any school other than their own.
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