The second category is also simple. Here are the guys who should obviously stay in the draft because they probably are first-round picks:
• Joe Alexander (West Virginia) (Editor's note: On Sunday, Alexander said he's staying in the draft)
• Chase Budinger (Arizona)
• Mario Chalmers (Kansas)
• J.J. Hickson (N.C. State)
• Bill Walker (Kansas State)
And now to the third category, which is a little more complex. This group features borderline first-round picks who could possibly make it to the NBA this year or guys who might be better off just going ahead and getting out of college because they aren't likely to do themselves any good by returning (or they have no interest whatsoever in returning).
Here's that list and how I'd advise each player:
Ryan Anderson (California)
Anderson might have the easiest choice of this bunch. If he can get a promise, he should stay in the draft. If not, he should return to school and take advantage of next year's weaker draft, and I think he's smart enough to know the difference, and that he'll know exactly what to do by Monday. There's no shame in going back to Cal and leading the Pac-10 in scoring again, but there's no need to do it unless it's necessary.
Wayne Ellington (North Carolina)
Ellington has repeatedly said he will not remain in the draft unless he knows he's a first-round pick, and I just don't see how he's going to know that by Monday. Everything I hear suggests he's a borderline first-round pick at best, and it appears most franchises picking at the bottom of the lottery aren't making promises to players because they don't want to promise a borderline first-round pick when it appears a guy like Bill Walker, Chase Budinger or Chris Douglas-Roberts could slide.
In other words, it's doubtful Ellington will hear what he wants to hear.
That means he should return to North Carolina, continue to improve and take advantage of next year's draft that should be softer by comparison. As along as Ellington doesn't get injured or forget how to shoot, he'd almost certainly be a first-round pick next year.
Jamont Gordon (Mississippi State)
Gordon is going to look up on draft night after the first round is completed and wonder why he passed on the opportunity to play at the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp. I haven't talked to one person who thinks that was a good idea or that he'll be a first-round pick. But it's clear Gordon has no interest in returning to college and just wants to take a paycheck, one way or another. Consequently, he should stay in the draft and see what happens but also know that the people telling him he's safely in the first round are providing bad advice.
Richard Hendrix (Alabama)
I'm generally not a big believer in the theory that players like Hendrix can help themselves with another year of college. He has already been fabulous in college, averaging 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. But the reality is that Hendrix isn't a first-round pick right now, and though he could, in theory, latch on with a team as a second-round pick and earn a contract like Glen Davis did, that's an awful risky move for a guy who comes from a strong and educated family.
So instead of that, Hendrix should do this: Return to Alabama and team with Ron Steele, Alonzo Gee and a nice recruiting class to help lead the Crimson Tide to an SEC West title and NCAA tournament berth. Then Hendrix can go to the Sweet 16 and watch how the combination of more exposure on a bigger stage and a weaker crop of prospects in 2009 makes him a lock for the first-round of next year's draft.
Honestly, this can work, because right or wrong it's been proved that guys who play for good teams are more attractive than guys coming off NIT or CBI years. Think about it: Was Derrick Rose the obvious No. 1 pick before Memphis ran to the national title game? Was Mario Chalmers a lock for the first round before Kansas won it all? The answers to those questions are no and no, and that's why Hendrix would be wise to return to Alabama and try to enter a weaker draft on a higher note.
Lester Hudson (UT-Martin)
Hudson isn't a first-round pick.
But he's about to turn 24 years old.
And it's debatable whether another season of posting big numbers in the Ohio Valley Conference will help him as a prospect in any way. That's why it's reasonable for him to take a chance and see if he can make a roster as a second-round pick or go to the NBDL or Europe and start earning a paycheck with the hope being he can work his way into the NBA that way. If I'm him, that's what I'd do.