Dribble Handoff: Trevor Keels and Drew Timme among those who must drop out of the NBA draft and return to college

With the NBA Draft Combine behind us and the June 1 withdrawal deadline for first entrants approaching, some college basketball players are considering making tough decisions about staying in the draft or going back to school. A handful of high-profile names have already made their call, with Louisiana tech great Kenneth Lofton Jr. Staying in the draft and other college stars like Indiana Trace Jackson Davis going back to school.

Dozens more are taking their time, processing all the information they received from NBA executives and trying to make the right decision. For players who stay in the draft but are not seen as lottery picks, there is some risk involved, as those who drop to the second round are not guaranteed to get guaranteed contracts. Those who aren’t drafted at all will end up doing so in hopes of getting two-way contracts as non-drafted free agents with the possibility of them ending up in the G League or abroad.

Since many players now have opportunities to earn money while playing college basketball, going back to school can be much more attractive than life on the sidelines of professional basketball. However, some are simply ready to start the next chapter of their lives and are ready to leave some collective eligibility on the table to take advantage of their youth and launch their careers.

So with the June 1 withdrawal deadline looming, who stands to gain the most from dropping out of the draft and back for another college season? Our writers are making their picks for this week’s shuffle delivery.

Drew Tim (Gonzaga)

Timme is the obvious answer because I honestly think he could have more fun and make more money in college next season than he might get or make playing professional basketball just by considering the most likely scenario of him playing professionally somewhere other than the NBA . G League is great for players who don’t have better options. But Timme clearly has a better option – specifically to return to Gonzaga as a First Team All-American for a top five team and make big money with NIL Chances. How much money can Timmy earn? I’m not sure. But if the Nijel Pack is worth $400,000 to someone, Drew Timme should earn at least a triple while playing every game on national television and in crowded arenas as he tries to become an forever legend as the player that leads the Zags to their first National Championship in School history. As I always say about these things, it’s ultimately up to Timmy, and I’ll respect any decision he makes as he lives his life. But, nevertheless, if I were him, I’m sure this would be an easy decision for me for all the reasons mentioned earlier. – Gary Parish

Jaylene Williams (Arkansas)

It’s getting close. I don’t think he’s one of the top 40 players in the NBA so far, but Williams 6-10 is growing in his game and could play his part in the first inning if he decides to come back and play his junior season with the Razorbacks. Arkansas would have status as a top-five team pre-season if Williams were on the list. That effect will be compounded, as it will be the most anticipated season of hog collars since the ’90s. Williams closed strong, averaging 14.3 points and 11.8 rebounds in four NCAA Championship games in Arkansas. He shot 24% of 3 last season. He could reasonably raise that to 30% N and juice his inventory in the process. Of all the guys hesitating about what to do, Williams feels close to 50/50 right now. He could get the best of it if he comes back, though: Arkansas won’t need you to be the guy every night, but there will be nights when that happens. He could lead an SEC team off the top of the cliff and a contender in the Final Four, he would surely top his stats over last season’s averages of 10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. The All-America campaign is possible. – Matt Norlander

Trevor Kells (Duke)

This seems like one of the really tough stay or go decisions in this course and reminds me a bit of previous ones like Isaiah Joe in 2020, Johnny Guzhang in 2021 and AJ Liddell in 2021. There is no clear and correct answer here. If Keels wasn’t the first manager, he’d be in his high thirties and likely into a guaranteed contract. This is very attractive. This is also in the range where I think you should at least consider going back to school.

Liddell’s path might be the path Keels could go down – he’s eventually back in college, transformed his body and worked his way up to being in the top 20 potential picks after dropping as a late or early second senior manager – but there’s no guarantee he’d Improve his stock with another season (even if I think that’s probably the best option.) The Juzang track, for example, is a different but similar decision from a year ago which may be a cautionary tale. Round one or two a year ago and he’s definitely in the range of Round Two from start to mid this time. His stock didn’t go down, inevitably, but another year in college didn’t improve his stock. Looking back, maybe he’d be better off riding the top of the Final Hot Four to the NBA.

With Keels, I feel he is more likely to drop out of school than not. But my reading about his draft prospects is that he will benefit more by another year of college and potentially reap significant financial benefits in doing so, assuming good health. Still only 18 years old, he could spend an extra season at Duke in a more prominent role, and in doing so could – consistently show – what he can do at the college level while proving to NBA teams his true worth. I’m certainly not in a position to tell an 18-year-old what to do, especially with so much money at stake, but a Blueblood like Duke would be in a good position to supplement any income lost from postponing his NBA career. For professionals with profitable money on nothing deals, one might think. Perhaps there is no right decision, but he will gain more in going back to school than staying in the enlistment. – Kyle Boone

Chris Murray (Iowa)

Chris Murray doesn’t need to look far to find a blueprint for how to drop the enlistment and return to Iowa for another season that can benefit him in the long run. All he has to do is check dummy drafts in which his brother, Keegan, is a locksmith to be picked in the lottery after the start of his second season. Identical twins aren’t identical players, but they are similar enough that it’s easy to see the similarities in how they translate to the next level.

As a versatile 6-8 striker, Kris will have the opportunity next season to take a big step in the same way Keegan did while leading the Big Ten in scoring last season. He’s already shown enough ability as a versatile defender and a threat to shoot from outside to be a potential experimental choice if he keeps playing. But if he comes back and gets 35 games as a base pick for the Hawkeyes, he could become a lottery pick as well. – David Cope

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