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Big names picking college over NBA

WP: In first year, age restriction rule has intended effect
Florida players like Corey Brewer, left, Joakim Noah, center, and Al Horford have led a group of player that have defied expectations by staying in school.Tracy Wilcox / THE GAINESVILLE SUN - AP
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

When the NBA instituted an age restriction last year, the prevailing notion was that it could prompt an inordinate number of college non-seniors to enter the 2006 draft, which will be the first since 1994 not to include a high school player.

And while the number of non-seniors who declare for the June 28 draft is expected to be high -- more than 40 have said they would enter before yesterday's deadline -- the biggest surprise will be the names not on the official list of draft-eligible non-seniors, which will be released by the league in the coming days.

"It's funny because I'm looking forward to seeing the kids who did go back to school more than some of the ones who declared," said Jonathan Givony, president of the scouting service "The kids that went back were the ones that played the best in the NCAA tournament. It was an excellent year for the NCAA."

Joakim Noah, the Final Four's most outstanding player, and two teammates at Florida -- Corey Brewer and Al Horford -- repeated for weeks that they would return to school even though they won a national title April 3 and were all projected as possible first-round picks.

Noah, many believed, could have been the first player chosen largely because high school players such as Greg Oden, who will attend Ohio State, and Kevin Durant, who will attend Texas, are not eligible. Players now must be 19 years old and a year out of high school to be drafted.

Louisiana State's Glen Davis, who became one of the most prominent faces of the NCAA tournament after leading the Tigers to the Final Four, also decided to return to school. So did Duke's Josh McRoberts, a projected lottery pick who was overshadowed all season by senior all-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.

The decision faced by Florida's players "would not have surprised me either way," said Kevin Bradbury, an agent who works for Bill Duffy's BDA Sports Management. "To be able to come back and defend your title, that's a beautiful thing. And Josh is going to have a chance to be the man at Duke. It's a case-by-case basis."

The list of non-seniors who declare for the draft always includes some who are not expected to be selected in the two-round draft. This spring, most of those players did not sign with agents, which allows them the option to return to school by pulling out of the draft before the June 18 deadline.

Three area players followed that path. George Washington juniors Carl Elliott and Danilo Pinnock both entered the draft but did not hire agents. The same can be said for Maryland's Ekene Ibekwe, who was expected to file the requisite paperwork to declare before yesterday's deadline. Teammate D.J. Strawberry considered declaring but decided against it, a school official said.

The exceptions included Memphis's Darius Washington, who had been flirting with entering the NBA draft since he was a senior in high school. Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo, who had an erratic season, and Iowa State guard Curtis Stinson, who saw the Cyclones abruptly make a coaching change after the season, both signed with agents but aren't expected to be top selections.

"How many college guys are drafted in the first round?" Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "Twenty, maybe, because of the international guys. Maybe. Because there are no high school kids, every kid who is in college who thinks he has a chance is going to declare because that is what agents tell you. Well, fine, they'll just take two more European kids then. You've got kids I've never heard of entering."

Two perennial national contenders, Connecticut and Texas, had a total of six non-seniors enter the draft. Two Longhorns, Daniel Gibson and Big 12 player of the year P.J. Tucker, have not hired agents and could return to school. Center LaMarcus Aldridge, however, will not return because he is expected to be among the first five players selected.

The Huskies will lose at least two non-seniors, Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams, both of whom will retain agents. Forward Josh Boone, a native of Mt. Airy, also entered the draft but is not expected to be a first-round selection.

When the official list is revealed, there could be a host of players who declare because this will be the first draft in 12 years without high school players.

"There is that sentiment out there," Givony said. "There's going to be a lot of players making stupid decisions because they are getting bad advice. Four or five high school kids drafted wouldn't change things. There just isn't room for all these players."