Dozens of players, every March and April, announce they are either leaving or returning to school, and the ones returning sometimes talk about improving stock.
They are projected to go somewhere in the NBA Draft.
But, with another year of hard work, they figure they can go somewhere else.
So they return to school under the assumption that they'll improve as players and, by extension, prospects. Problem is, another year of college isn't guaranteed to make anybody a better player or prospect. North Texas' Tony Mitchell is the latest example.
My colleague Jeff Goodman reported Monday that Mitchell will soon announce he's entering the NBA Draft. It's hard not to think he's doing it a year too late. The 6-foot-8 forward was hot this time last March. He had just averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 56.7 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from 3-point range and 73.9 percent from the free-throw line. He would've been a first-round pick, maybe even a lottery pick. Everybody agrees on that.
But he returned to North Texas.
Even though his coach left for LSU, Mitchell returned to North Texas.
It was a surprising development, but I didn't mind because, let me be clear, I'm not interested in making life-altering decisions for other people. I know what I would've done if I were Tony Mitchell, and I know what I would've advised my son to do if he were Tony Mitchell. But I'm not Tony Mitchell and neither is my son. Tony Mitchell is Tony Mitchell, and he deserves to make his own decisions, for better or worse. He told USA Today that he wanted to "mature on and off the court." I hope he did, whatever that means.
But let's not pretend his decision wasn't costly.
A year ago, after one year of college, everybody loved Mitchell's perceived upside, and some projected him as a lottery pick. DraftExpress.com had him in the 20s. So let's split the difference and project Mitchell as the 20th pick in last year's draft. That would've brought him a two-year guaranteed contract worth a little more than $2.3 million.
"He could go in the second round easily this year if he's not careful," DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony told me, and I can't imagine Mitchell ever expected to read those words when he passed on the 2012 draft. But I'm also sure he never expected that his minutes would go up while his points, rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and free throw attempts went down. But they did. Every single one of them. So here we are with no tangible evidence that Mitchell is better off with that extra year of college and lots of reasons to think he's not.
Ultimately, Mitchell could still develop into a legitimate NBA player, and there's no guarantee that leaving last year wouldn't have led to an assignment in the D-League. Perhaps he would've been exposed as a professional the same way he's been exposed as an amateur. Nobody is denying that possibility. But I've always believed it's better to be exposed as a professional than as an amateur because by then the checks are already promised. At this moment, Mitchell is promised nothing. He'll need to remove red flags, answer tough questions and kill it in the predraft workouts. Anything short of that will give him no chance to be selected where he would've been selected a year ago (when most scouts were more enamored with what he could be than what he might actually be). Anything short of that could quite literally cost Mitchell millions of dollars.
So be careful, prospects.
I'm not suggesting you should all leave school as soon as possible or that there isn't value in a traditional four-year college experience because there is an undeniable value in that, and I'll never criticize anybody for choosing school and the college life over everything else regardless of the circumstances. Do what you want. It almost certainly won't affect my life in any way. So I'll never push you out the door or try to keep you in.
I have no agenda.
But prospects projected in the first round should know they are essentially gambling with large amounts of money and that there's risk involved. Let's not pretend otherwise. And let's also stop pretending another year of college will absolutely help everybody grow as players and prospects because that's just not the case. Sometimes it actually shrinks the player and prospect, Tony Mitchell being the latest on the list.