There's no doubt it was inevitable.
Wesley Johnson was going to the NBA draft as a (projected) high lottery pick.
The only question: Would he don the Orange uniform one more year? And as a senior, would he try to guide the Orange to what it couldn’t accomplish this year: a Final Four?
Or would he depart a year early, having already earned Big East Player of the Year, a first team All-American spot, and having helped guide the Orange to its best regular season ever?
With the Orange losing two crucial seniors to graduation and the fear that there may be no NBA season after next year (with all the talks about a lockout amidst tense contractual negotiations), I guess it became inevitable that Wes said goodbye to CNY this year.
It still stings for Orange fans, though.
Wes took a relatively long time to make this decision, which could be seen as a good thing as he actually had to “think about it.”
But it also just makes it so much worse. The longer a player takes, the better the chances that he’ll stay, yes?
Then there were the rumors of his Twitter account and Facebook status hinting that he may come back.
Even Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, the ultimate curmudgeon, seemed cautiously optimistic that the star forward would return.
But all that’s a moot point now.
Johnson’s gone, and as much of a disappointment as it may be, it still doesn’t come as that much of a surprise.
Everyone and their mother knows the NBA tends to draft on a player’s potential, and there’s no doubt Wes has incredible potential.
His game isn’t as all-around good as it can be, as his ball-handling and driving skills still need to improve greatly.
But he’s still a freak of an athlete, a tenacious rebounder and shot-blocker, and possesses a silky smooth jump shot. If molded correctly, he could become a great NBA franchise player someday.
When Carmelo Anthony left Syracuse after one year, everyone pointed to the fact that there was nothing more he could do if he came back for another year.
After all, he had guided the Orange to its first, and only, national championship.
Surely anything less than a Final Four would have been a disappointment for ‘Melo, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind he was NBA-ready.
With Wes, it’s slightly the same story, although a little more flawed.
He didn’t win the championship, or get to a Final Four for that matter. He even disappeared for the last five or so minutes of the dreaded Butler Game (however, some of the blame has to go to poor game-planning and execution).
However, what he did do was lead Syracuse to a fantastic, unforgettable, and at times unbelievable regular season. His unselfishness led the way for a team that was noted for its team chemistry all season long.
The only possible way this may have ended differently is if Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku weren’t leaving as well, due to their graduations.
With them in the lineup next year, along with Wes, this team would have been a title contender from day one.
However, with them gone, it’d be risky for Johnson to stay and expect the ‘Cuse to be a contender, especially with (likely) two freshmen starting next year.
There’s just not that much more we could have expected from him had he stayed another year.
Of course, the ultimate factor may have been, as it definitely and rightly can be, money.
The guaranteed money Wes will make as a lottery pick will be well into the millions, no doubt. With the potential for there to not even be a 2011-2012 NBA season, he’s got to go while the money is on the table.
Also, I’m sure he wouldn’t want to take another brutal fall again next season, like the fall he took against Providence this year, and risk serious injury (which in turns risks serious money).
Wes is a great person and a great basketball player.
While there are the purists out there who will relentlessly argue that a college basketball player should stay in college for four years no matter what, to uphold the integrity of “academics first,” that’s just not the reality we live in these days.
If anything, though, Wes did it the right way.
He battled his way through Iowa State (which was not a great program) for two years and improved his game even more while he sat out a year at Syracuse.
He worked his butt off this year, and there can be no doubt about how strong his passion was for college basketball and the team he represented, the Syracuse Orange.
He wasn’t one of those uber-talented super athletes, like John Wall or Kevin Durant (or even LeBron James), who are clearly ready for the NBA after high school.
He's worked hard for what he has gotten, and there’s no doubt he will work just as hard in the NBA, which makes whatever team drafting him even that much luckier.
Wes deserves the money and stardom he’s going to be getting, and he deserves a fond farewell from the Syracuse community and college basketball in general.
So, good luck to you, Wes, not only in the NBA, but all future endeavors.
Syracuse fans, let’s not lump him in with Donte Greene and all the negativity that surrounded him when he left after one year and one NIT visit (which I don’t see happening anyway).
What Wes did (and where Donte failed) is help provide ‘Cuse fans with one of the most fun seasons in a long time.
A season few of us, especially a select 34,616, won’t soon forget.
Just as quickly as he came, he’s now gone, but it was an honor to have him in Orange.
Side note: I’ve been waiting for this decision by Wes for a while now, so in my next article I can focus, in depth, on what the team will look like next year. Obviously, Wes’s decision had to factor into that article.
That being said, the next article will be a preview of what to expect next year, and along with that, it will be the last article that will have any sort of focus on this year’s team (as in trying to figure out next year’s team, there will have to be some serious comparisons to this year’s team).
After that, I’ll focus on the recruits next year and all the mundane type of stuff that makes us crave college basketball’s return. So any comments on this year’s team, its players, or anything regarding this previous season will be welcomed now or in the next article, but after that I’m going to shift focus, purely, to next year and beyond.
Thanks for reading!