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April 18, 2013

Jerrett can only decide if NBA leap is correct

Since the NBA disallowed high school seniors to jump straight to the league in 2006, yours truly has been adamant about giving those young men the choice back or adopting a system similar to baseball.

Take the risk and make your living, or go to school and be required to stay for at least three years.

Nobody says a word when a high school pitcher is selected in the 15th round by a major league team, whose minor league system he may never escape. Now, there is a big draft pool that may as well be a crap shoot.

When Arizona released its statement late Wednesday night about Grant Jerrett's decision to declare for this summer's NBA draft, the uproar that had been building - GOAZCATS.com was informed late Sunday that the freshman was considering such a move - came to a boiling point.

Bad advice. Bound for Europe. Not ready. Not strong enough. Chasing the money. Might go undrafted. Afraid of the Wildcats' competition next season.

There were many more opinions, but that was the gist of the backlash that the 6-10 forward was receiving - some of it directly via Twitter. Some were valid and plenty possible, while other suggestions were purely predictable speculation anytime a one-and-done player looks like anything but a lottery lock.

Some of the response was just nasty, too. Many messages unfairly assumed Jerrett was not a bright kid. Look, I do not claim to know Grant Jerrett on a personal level, but there were enough opportunities to talk to the 19-year-old this past season and not once did he come off as anything but intelligent.

That said, would an extra year to develop hurt? Not at all. But you cannot solely look at the numbers, either.

Jerrett started the first two games of his collegiate career before head coach Sean Miller decided to bring him off the bench. In 34 games, the Chino Hills, Calif., native averaged 5.2 points on 40.9 percent shooting and pulled down 3.6 rebounds. He also led the Wildcats in 3-point shooting (40.5 percent) and total blocks (33).

The numbers are nothing special, but who is to say that there would be a dramatic increase across the board with another year?

The man who recruited Jerrett, former UA associate head coach James Whitford, left to accept the head coaching position at Ball State less than two weeks ago. Whitford also happened to be responsible for developing the team's big men, and Arizona has yet to fill the vacancy.

In addition, 2013 five-star forward Aaron Gordon, the No. 3-ranked prospect in the nation, signed his National Letter of Intent earlier in the day. The 6-8, 205-pound pogo stick is the highest-ranked recruit of the Miller era, which will enter its fifth season in 2013-14.

Gordon and sophomores-to-be Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski will battle for minutes at the power forward and center positions, respectively, that Jerrett can play. Then, there are Angelo Chol and JC transfer Matt Korcheck, who voluntarily redshirted last season, to also compete in the frontcourt.

Raise your hand if you think Gordon is not going to receive every chance to play in what may be a one-and-done of his own. Now, proceed to slap yourself back to reality with that hand.

Fair or not, some players just have a longer leash than others. Jerrett averaged 17.6 minutes, the lowest of the three freshmen, and Miller's decision to go back on his word and give Solomon Hill a few minutes in the post only hurt that playing time.

Just about anywhere else in the country, Jerrett would have been good for 25 to 30 minutes and a considerable boost in statistics. Does that mean a junior with a green light and dominating a lesser conference is necessarily better?


Meanwhile, a projected weak draft class was enough to convince Jerrett to consider the leap. By 2014, that may not be the case.

Ask anyone in the know prior to the season and they will tell you that Jerrett had pro potential written all over him coming out of LaVerne (Calif.) Lutheran. He was not high-school-to-the-NBA talented, but he was good enough to be projected as a mid-first-round selection in a 2014 mock draft by Draft Express.

Jerrett has since dropped out of any mock drafts entirely, although there is a chance a team could select him in the second round. Still, anyone drafted outside of the first round will not receive a guaranteed contract, and the general unwritten rule for freshmen is to first make sure you are a clear lock. Instead, Jerrett is a question mark.

But in a league that loves the word upside, Daniel Orton managed to land in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft when the Orlando Magic selected him with the 29th overall pick. The 6-10, 255-pound center played a mere 13.2 minutes, scored 3.4 points and grabbed 3.3 rebounds in his lone season at Kentucky.

In two NBA seasons, Orton has appeared in just 23 games and has spent more time toiling around the NBA's Developmental League. He has become another punchline in a laundry list of poor decisions.

But no two players are the same, either, and lower draft picks have enjoyed success in the league.

Rashard Lewis was taken 32nd overall in the second round of the 1998 draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. Lewis came into the league out of high school, and on draft night he was among the handful of talents invited to sit in the green room for the event. In other words, he was expected to be drafted much earlier than expected.

As the last player in attendance, waiting to hear his name called, Lewis was driven to tears and immediately labeled another mistake. In his rookie season, Lewis averaged a blip better than seven minutes per game in a lockout-shortened 1999 season.

Fourteen NBA seasons, two All-Star selections, more than 1,700 made 3-pointers and more than $200 million in signed NBA contracts later, Lewis proved he was willing to put in the work to be remembered as anything but immature and misguided.

That same year, 7-foot center Michael Olowokandi, a senior out of the University of the Pacific, was selected No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, by the way. You can go ahead and Google how his career turned out.

Lewis, similar to Jerrett, is 6-10, weighs five pounds less at 230 and plays the role of a "stretch four" with the ability to shoot from beyond the arc. Look around the NBA and you will find a league with big men who operate farther away from the basket with each passing year.

I don't know if Grant Jerrett is going to be Rashard Lewis. But as long as he is aware of the far-from-easy work required to avoid becoming another Daniel Orton, then all you can do is respect the decision.

After all, it is his choice.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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