Randolph Morris, a junior center at Kentucky finds himself in a fascinating situation. The story starts out with his unfortunate decision (at the time) to test his market value by declaring for the 2005 draft after his freshman season.
Once Morris's projected draft position began to fall it probably would have prudent to withdraw his name and return to school. Instead he kept name in the draft, but was not selected. Had he been a late 2nd round pick, his college career would have been over. He would have either signed an NBA rookie minimum contract or ended up in the NBDL or in Europe. Morris thought he could return to play for his school, as permitted by NCAA rules. But Morris was ruled ineligible for the entire season (later reduced to 14 games) because he, in the eyes of the NCAA, had an agent working on his behalf and because he did not pay all his own expenses associated with working out for NBA teams.
Nothing worse than declaring for the draft, then not getting picked. Actually for Randolph Morris going undrafted will likely turn into his good fortune. Literally.
Here's how it works: While the NCAA allows a player to return to school (as long as he announces his intention to return prior to the draft or is not drafted and maintains his amateur status), under the NBA collective bargaining agreement he is only eligible to be drafted one time.
Fast forward to the present: Randolph Morris is a now a junior and considered a top prospect. He is averaging 16.9 points and 8.0 rebounds. Last week Morris made 10 of 11 shots against North Carolina and its star Tyler Hansbrough.
Since Morris cannot be drafted again he will enter the NBA as a free agent. A coveted free agent. No artificially capped rookie contract. Instead he (and his agent) can negotiate with any NBA franchise and sign with the highest bidder.
Like an infomercial voice over, BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Apparently many NBA GMs were not aware of the rules covering a player in Morris's situation. An NBA team doesn't even have to wait until the normal free agent signing period which starts July 1. They can sign him, get this, now.
Not since Jim Chones left Marquette in the middle of the 1971-72 season to sign with an ABA team, has a college basketball player been in this type of situation. The ABA held its draft in the middle of the college season in order to gain an advantage over NBA. What the ABA owners lacked in money, they made up for in ingenuity.
I am sure college coaches will be up in arms about the potential can of worms Morris might open if he leaves Kentucky. Dick Vitale will probably freak out and write another open letter to the misguided Randolph Morris. He will talk about loyalty, about commitment, about finishing what he started. All good points. He probably won't mention those money-grubbing college football coaches who left their teams last week...in the middle of the season...when their own market values were peaking.
Interestingly, when Jim Chones was in this situation his college coach, Al Maguire, one of my all-time favorites, encouraged him to sign the pro contract. Keep in mind, Marquette was 21-0 at the time and the number 2 ranked college team in the country.
"Al says to me, 'Jimmy, you gotta leave, it’s a lot of money and it’s a great opportunity.' I told him that I didn’t think I was ready and you know what Al tells me? 'Jimmy, I don’t care and it doesn’t make a difference. You gotta go.' You see, Al had no fear. He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion or stand up against anything or any institution. There will never be another Al McGuire or a revolutionary like he was...He saw the world not as people wanted to see it, but as it really was."
I hope that Randolph Morris stays until the end of the season, but I will not begrudge him if he leaves.
Lexington Leader's Jerry Tipton explains why it is unlikely that a pro team would sign Morris during the season. As college basketball commentator Clark Kellogg said the NBA does not want to "create the appearance that it is raiding players off teams."