One of the annual rites of spring, declaring for the NBA Draft, is upon us in abundance.
Some, like UConn's Charlie Villanueva and Alabama's Kennedy Winston, didn't even wait until the NCAA Tournament ended to announce their intentions.
Deron Williams is ready to make an impact next year. (Getty Images)
NCAA champion Rashad McCants of North Carolina tipped his hand in the locker room following the final, having already informed Roy Williams of his decision way back in January. Louisville's Francisco Garcia, with Rick Pitino blessing his departure, declared himself before the start of the season.
Over the coming weeks, you'll see at least another 30 to 40 players opt to test the NBA waters, some foolishly, some wisely. You'll see guys declare only to go through the experience of workouts and camps before returning to school, while others go for broke, sign with agents and forfeit their amateur status. As always, you'll see about 10 to 15 foreigners toss their name into the hat as well.
The number of potential preps-to-pros jumps are down significantly this year; you can count the ones that would be taken seriously on a single hand, and will find only one on our Top-Five lists below.
Among those names omitted are the NCAA Championship's most outstanding player, North Carolina's Sean May, Duke's J.J. Redick and Illinois' Dee Brown, none of whom we feel will skip their senior seasons.
Some believe no time may be better than the present for May to leave school, but he can still improve his body and perimeter skills, and might lift his draft profile even further if he picks up where he left off in this year's tournament. We're a big fan of May's game and feel it will translate well to the pros, but considering the big men available this season, it may be wise to get that degree and that last sprinkle of seasoning.
Brown and Redick should find their niches in the league once they are drafted, but you're not going to hear any NBA teams clamoring for their early entry. It's their choice: compete for player of the year honors or an NBA roster spot? Seems like a no-brainer for both.
With those disclaimers out of the way, here's our tentative list of top prospects at each position, with a special category created for Syracuse's Hakim Warrick, who as you'll see, we're trumpeting pretty loudly. These lists are certain to change through workouts and measurements, but this is who we see NBA GMs drooling over as the June 28 draft approaches.
1. Deron Williams, 6-foot-3, 210, Illinois: We're breaking a trend in not touting the truly special Paul as the top prize, but we also overhyped Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a few years back. They've turned out to be pretty good. Williams is as gifted a leader and as clutch a performer as you'll find, and given his physical advantages over Paul, gets our nod. Williams is physically ready to start in the league next season, especially from a defensive standpoint. His shooting is already strong, and figures to improve as he hires professional help and dedicates himself to playing the NBA Draft showcase game. Devin Harris went in last year's lottery with similar gifts, and considering we feel Williams is much further along, we'd be shocked if he didn't go in the top five.
2. Chris Paul, 6-1, 170, Wake Forest: A fabulous passer with excellent leadership skills, Paul will be an All-Star and one of the most dynamic performers at his position for the next decade. He can make things happen at both ends of the floor, and his competitive personality will make him a fan favorite in whatever city he ends up in.
3. Raymond Felton, 6-1, 200, North Carolina: Some scouts are sleeping on Sugar Ray's skills, which makes you wonder what said scouts are looking at. He's among the fastest players in the world with a basketball, and makes sound decisions despite playing at a breakneck pace. His jumper has continued to improve, and he's thick enough a player to take a pounding. If he opts to go pro -- he will likely at least test his stock -- he'll be a Top-20 selection.