Georgia's Rising Stars' Draft Stock Could Help UGA More Than NBA

Mike FosterCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2010

The University of Georgia's basketball team has created tons of positive chatter in Athens and the rest of the state lately, despite having just a 12-13 overall record. The team has well reflected first-year coach Mark Fox's coaching skills, drastically improving and winning games over Illinois, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.

The Dawgs have just a few more wrinkles to iron out before they become a polished and dangerous piece of equipment.

Georgia's progress has shown up in terms of ball movement, ball control, and defensive intensity. Most of these improvements are products of Mark Fox, but Georgia's two superstars in the making have also heavily influenced the resurrection of UGA basketball.

Travis Leslie and Howard "Trey" Thompkins, one and two in scoring on the team, both have gained significant NBA draft attention in the past few months.

Trey Thompkins, averaging 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds, has quietly put himself in the SEC's most valuable player race. This would not be a surprise to the fans who were aware that Thompkins led the 19-and-under U.S. team to a world championship last year.

Even with that accolade, Thompkins has gained little national attention, however his 6'9", 250-pound frame makes him a fitting specimen. Thompkins has a well-polished interior game to go along with sneaky shooting range.

Travis Leslie, on the other hand, has gotten tons of national exposure in recent weeks with his highlight reel dunks, which have shown up on SportsCenter countless occasions. Leslie's posterization of DeMarcus Cousins, who has proven to be maybe the best potential NBA lottery pick, thrust him into the national spotlight.

However, Leslie is more of a raw talent that needs to develop his game. The 6'4" athlete is listed as a guard-forward hybrid, or a three in coaching terms.

He's definitely undersized to play a three in the NBA, however he could possibly find himself a place as a two guard. Leslie's primary game is running fastbreaks, finishing with high-flying dunks, as well as getting scrappy buckets underneath the rim.

His shooting has been his "weakness", if you will, but has improved week in and week out so far this year. Leslie's "raw" ability has led him to an average of 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists a game. His athleticism could make him extremely valuable for a team like Golden State or the like.

If you are a Georgia fan, you are probably reading all of this speculation and cringing. The thought of these two guys leaving for the NBA is unsettling considering they are just as responsible for grabbing the media's attention as Coach Fox.

Both will be eligible to leave as soon as this season is over, however neither are projected to do so. Some do think that the duo will leave in 2011.

That gives us one more year. With that said, next year will be a huge year for Georgia to use Thompkins and Leslie's suddenly nationally-acclaimed ability to win more games and solidify the program as a "good basketball choice" for recruits.

The showcase of the two's talent, hopefully on a more national level with more TV spots, will be extremely valuable to lifting the program. With Ricky McPhee graduating at the end of the year, Leslie and Thompkins will be the focal point.

Without them, Georgia would be a completely irrelevent team, no matter how good of a coach Mark Fox is.

But, if Georgia can grab the eyes of talented 18-year-olds around the country they could be glued in as a legitimate contender. It all comes down to the recruitment, and many already believe Mark Fox has the recruiting tools to bring in good players on his own.

But with the help of Thompkins and Leslie for one to two more years, Georgia could start bringing in great players.

NBA draft: good for Thompkins and Leslie, bad for the University of Georgia. This isn't football, where someone just fills in.

The potential scenario stated above will be a crucial turning point for Georgia basketball, either for the good or the bad.

Talk about a pickle.