If a college basketball roster is fluid, the Tennessee Vols are taking on water.
A verbal commitment from Murfreesboro point guard Darius Thompson last weekend pushed UT over the NCAA-mandated scholarship limit of 13.
Following the departure of seniors Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall and Dwight Miller, coach Cuonzo Martin will have 10 returning scholarship players. Four freshmen — Dyer County High School guard Robert Hubbs III, Buford (Ga.) High combo forward A.J. Davis, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep point guard Travon Landry and the aforementioned Thompson, from Blackman High School — are incoming.
That equals 14.
Some water needs to be bailed.
Questions stir around the future of standouts Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes. Both are mulling over the option of declaring early for the NBA draft. A new set of rules, enacted by the NCAA in May 2011, make it a far trickier process than that navigated by such former UT stars as Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris.
Under the new set of rules, any player who declares for the draft must decide by the day before National Signing Day (April 17 this year) whether he wants to return to school or lose his collegiate eligibility.
The withdrawal date was previously May 8, affording players a chance to participate in a handful of NBA workouts and more direct communication with league executives.
Now that is impossible.
Potential early entrants, McRae and Stokes included, fly blind. The NBA bars teams from communicating with players who are not officially draft eligible, while the NCAA bans contact from third parties contacting NBA teams.
The only individual who can speak with NBA teams and vice versa is a player’s head coach, in McRae and Stokes’ case, Martin.
Upon being enacted, the NCAA’s rule change was bombarded with criticism, denounced by many coaches and rife with controversy. The storm prompted the NBA to form the Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Comprised of 20 league executives, the committee produces formal evaluations for any potential early-entrant who requests one. The report is considered the clearest picture of a player’s standing in scouting circles.
Possible early entrants must request a report by April 10. Doing so is not the same as declaring for the draft and players don’t have to declare to request an evaluation. The reports, which attempt to provide an accurate window of where a player could land in the draft, are issued to players April 15.
While the NCAA’s early entry withdrawal date is April 16, the NBA’s deadline to declare doesn’t fall until April 28. Thus, whether a player pulls his name out of the draft by April 16 or doesn’t declare at all during the NCAA’s mandated time frame, he can still enter the draft as long as he does so before the 28th.
Something to remember; despite the above communication restrictions, activity and chatter bustle in alleys. When it comes to getting information to a player, agents, coaches, handlers and NBA personnel manage to keep the lines open.
What’s all this mean for Stokes and McRae? That depends on what they are hearing, who they are listening to and how each interprets what he gathers.
Either way, if one or both bolts, UT will right its scholarship.
And if both return?
Then eyes drift toward Martin’s incoming class, notably Landry.
According to statistics on Maxpreps.com, the 6-foot-1 point guard averaged 2.7 points and 2.8 assists per game and went 2-for-29 on 3-point attempts this year for powerhouse Huntington Prep. The program, littered with Division I talent, finished the season 30-3, ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Super 25 and featured Andrew Wiggins, the 2012-13 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
A consensus three-star prospect, Landry committed to Tennessee as a junior at Bob Jones High School near Huntsville, Ala., in December 2011. He signed a National Letter of Intent with UT on Nov. 15, 2012. Now, given his struggles at Huntington, speculation spins as to whether he could be nudged in a different direction.
A call and text message to Huntington coach Rob Fulford went unanswered.
If not Stokes, McRae or Landry, the only other possible defection would have to come from the remainder of Martin’s roster, be it a player transferring for playing time or new scenery.
That’s far from an irregularity in the college game.
By whatever means, either someone is going or someone isn’t coming.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.