“He can look in the mirror and see who he is,” Thompson said.
That isn’t always the case these days. It’s often easier for a talented young player to look in the mirror and see that NBA logo surrounded by million dollar bills. That’s the image that often clouds all sensibility and rushes the process. That’s the fantasy that sends too many running from reality.
Monroe was rookie of the year in the Big East, college basketball’s best conference last season. Like many freshmen, Monroe also was inconsistent — if not invisible at times — and the Hoyas were one of the country’s most disappointing teams. Even so, Thompson performed the required task of gathering NBA information for Monroe back in April and passed along the news that his power forward was destined to be a lottery pick.
That’s when Monroe looked in the mirror. He had told The Washington Post in February that he intended to stay in school, but decisions made that early can change. Then, with very little fanfare, Thompson confirmed Monroe’s decision on April 15. The list of NBA early entrants became official Monday, the final day players could withdraw their name from consideration. But Monroe didn’t even test the waters, as many underclassmen do in this age.
“At the end of the day, where he could have potentially been drafted was not as important to him as being ready and prepared and improving his game,” Thompson said of Monroe. “I think he realized he can get a lot better. He can get a lot stronger and his skill set can improve. You know, he has great instincts. He’s always going to have great instincts.
“He’s not one of those kids who’s itching to get out as soon the first opportunity rolls along. He’s going to leave when he feels it makes sense and when he feels he’s ready. He can improve a lot. A lot of people go through the process just looking at where you’re going to be drafted, as opposed to putting yourself in a position — mentally, physically, emotionally — to have success once you get [to NBA].”
But there is another comparison Monroe and a handful of other college players would like to hear heading into the 2010 NBA draft. They are the talented ones who could become the next Blake Griffin.
The Oklahoma power forward whose meteoric rise in college basketball last season will culminate June 25 when he becomes the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Griffin likely would have been a top five pick last year, but by returning to the Sooners and earning consensus national player of the year honors he became the object of desire in this year’s draft.
“When it came down to it, I didn’t feel completely comfortable with leaving [in 2008],” Griffin told nbadraft.net in an interview last month. “I wanted to get another year under my belt to improve physically and skill-wise. And it turned out to be a great decision in the long run. I got to experience things this year that I didn’t experience in my freshman year. And I’m able to do things now that I couldn’t after my freshman year.”
“I think Greg has the opportunity to have the same type of year Blake had,” Thompson said. “Physically they are much different. Blake is, and was even prior to last summer, such a physical specimen and so explosive. And now Greg’s overall strength and conditioning is a focal point for this summer. But we’ll see how the season plays out. There’s a large core of returning players who could have that type of year.”
And it should be obvious from their play next season that there is no turning back.
“There will not be any questions about, ‘Is Cole staying another year after this one?’ ” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters when Aldrich announced his decision to stay. “He is coming back for his junior year. I can’t see it being anything past that if he has a good junior year.”
Aldrich was the most improved player in the nation last season and figures to be the best true center in the 2010 draft. He is fundamentally sound with a variety of low post moves but he can also shoot from the outside and is a skilled passer. Mix in his terrific rebounding ability and his increasing shot blocking skills and Aldrich is the complete package.
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