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When 50-50 NBA prospects tip toward school, successful seasons are made

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By staying a year longer in school, Thomas Robinson developed a monster game. (US Presswire)  
By staying a year longer in school, Thomas Robinson developed a monster game. (US Presswire)  

Various underclassmen will announce their intentions to enter the 2012 NBA Draft over the next few weeks, and we'll report it because it's news. But it's really only news these days when a could-be-professional decides to delay becoming a professional, and it is with those decisions that greatness will be achieved next season.

How do I know?

Because it's that way every season.

Take a look at the nation's best teams in the season that just ended. Not all of them had future Hall of Fame coaches or elite freshmen. But what most had in common is they benefitted from a prospect who could've reasonably turned pro in 2011 but decided to instead spend another year in college. Let's call them the 50-50 guys who chose school ... and let's start with Kentucky.

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Yes, those one-and-done freshmen were huge for the Wildcats.

John Calipari would still be title-less without them.

But would Kentucky have won the 2012 NCAA tournament if Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had entered the 2011 NBA Draft? Probably not -- especially when considering those two starters combined for 31 points and eight rebounds in UK's 67-59 win over Kansas on Monday. So there's no denying the Wildcats were fortunate to get an extra year from Jones and Lamb, just like the Jayhawks were fortunate to get an extra year from Thomas Robinson.

Robinson could've reasonably entered the 2011 NBA Draft, too. He wouldn't have gone in the top five like he'll likely go this year, but he would've been picked somewhere and could've placed himself in a financial situation to take care of his little sister. Some thought he would. But he didn't. Robinson instead stayed in school, developed into a monster and helped Bill Self win his eighth straight Big 12 championship. Perry Jones made a similar decision and helped Baylor make the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.

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North Carolina got three pros back -- Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller -- and won the ACC regular-season title with them. Vanderbilt returned three -- Festus Ezeli, Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins -- and became one of just two teams to beat UK. Ohio State returned Jared Sullinger and William Buford and made the Final Four, and this is why the still-to-come decisions from Cody Zeller and Christian Watford will be huge not only for Indiana but also for the rest of the nation, because their decisions could turn the Hoosiers into either Big Ten favorites or a borderline Top 25 team.

Zeller will probably return even though he's a projected lottery pick.

Watford?

Sources told CBSSports.com that remains very much up in the air.

To be clear, Indiana should still be good if one or both leave because Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Maurice Creek and a heralded freshman class highlighted by Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Perea and Yogi Ferrell will be in place. But if Zeller and Watford return to Bloomington, the Hoosiers will be legitimate national title contenders primarily because they'll have the services of two 50-50 guys who chose to delay a professional paycheck for at least one more season of college basketball.

So that's the storyline for now.

Will Zeller and Watford stay or go?

And what about Duke's Mason Plumlee? And North Carolina State's C.J. Leslie? And Baylor's Quincy Miller? Another relevant 50-50 guy who could determine how the 2012-13 season unfolds, because though it's possible to win big without a professional who decided to do another year of college, it is -- as Kentucky, Kansas North Carolina, Ohio State others just showed us -- undeniably much easier when the flip of a coin lands school-up.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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