Jrue Holiday has declared that he will stay in the NBA 2009 draft, and forgo the remaining three years of his college eligibility at UCLA, under premier coach Ben Howland.
Coach Howland is forced to put a good spin on the circumstances, or risk alienating UCLA's recruiting base.
But one has to wonder what could have been at UCLA for Jrue and what will transpire over the premature inception of his professional career.
Jrue Holliday's amateur basketball career has been more choreographed than the Bolshoi Ballet's Carmen Suite. The 19-year old's Campbell Hall high school and AAU Pump n' Run acrobatic slam-dunks and alley-oops are well documented on Youtube.com and Ballislife.com. At 6'3", 180 lbs., Jrue was ranked the number-two high school recruit by both Scout.com and Rivals.com. He received the Gatorade 2008 National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
Anchoring UCLA's No. 1-ranked NCAA Men's Basketball Recruiting Class of 2008, expectations for Jrue were stellar. Yet his freshman year performance was mediocre on a UCLA team that underperformed expectations. UCLA began 2008 ranked No. 4, but could not hold onto a Top 10 ranking during the regular and were beaten in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the second round by Villanova.
Jrue's numbers during this season do not inspire awe: 8.5 ppg with a total of 296 points for the season, only enough for the number five rank on his team. The rest of his box score is equally underwhelming: 45 percent field-goal average, 3.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.1 TOs, and 1.6 steals. Still, they were respectable enough to earn him All-Pac-10 Freshman Team Honors.
So why is he entering the 2009 NBA Draft?
Why is he projected to be drafted seventh by ESPN.com? His boosters argue that Ben Howland limited his touches since he played the two guard at UCLA, which prevented Jrue from adequately demonstrating his ability to generate offense. Moreover, boosters argue that Jrue has demonstrated basketball IQ, floor vision, use pick and roll plays effectively and can change gears.
Is there a valid argument to stay out of the draft?
Jrue is being counselled by sanguine parents and biased agents. It is true that Jrue could take the money and avoid the risk of a season-ending collegiate injury which could impair his draftability in 2010.
However, Jrue has not developed adequately to perform at the NBA level. The risk of premature entry into the draft is made more acute because this year's draft has a notoriously poor crop for point guards, which disproportionately improves his draft position.
Physically, Jrue now weights 199 lbs and at 6'3" has the height to defend against NBA guards. But his musculature is that of a boy. He will be bruised trying to finish at the rim against equally fast but stronger NBA guards. NBA guards' inability to be manhandled by smaller defenders will buffet Jrue into turnovers, prevent Jrue from accessing the lane, and keep Jrue from splitting traps.
Skill-wise, Jrue has been weak in the half-court offense and had problems finishing his shots in college. NBA teams do not have the luxury of pushing the ball up-court the same way Jrue did in high school. NBA guards must be able pressure to execute in the half-court.
Moreover, his perimeter shooting percentage of 31 percent from the three-point line was not impressive. Jrue has admitted that "people don't think I have" a jump shot. In the NBA, the three-point line will be much more challenging.
Jrue should have taken a cue from his senior All American teammate and stayed at UCLA to improve his game and develop his strength.