Bulls

Decision time looming for college underclassmen

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Decision time looming for college underclassmen

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 12:30 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Just because Monday nights NCAA Championship game was a stinkerin case youve been under a rock this week, Connecticut prevailed over underdog Butler in a horrific offensive displaydoesnt mean you should turn your back on whats going on in the college game. While the actual season is over, this time of the year is notable for not only the annual coaching carouselthe flurry of coaches either getting fired or hired around the countrythat occurs in college basketball, but for star underclassmen deciding whether or not theyll remain in college or hightail it to the professional level.

After missing the majority of the season with a toe injury before returning for the NCAA Tournament, Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving decided Wednesday to declare for the NBA draft. Irving is perhaps the top overall prospect in college basketball and his odds of being the top pick in the draft are increased by the fact that others regarded as No. 1 candidatessuch as Arizona forward Derrick Williams and North Carolina swingman Harrison Barnesremain on the fence about their respective futures.

While theres still plenty of time for underclassmen to decide if theyre leaving schoolthe deadline to declare for the draft is April 24, but players who have not retained agents can pull out by May 8some notable players have apparently already decided theyll stay in school. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, Texas freshman Tristan Thompson and North Carolina twin towers John Henson and Tyler Zeller are among the players who have publicly declared theyre up for another March Madness run next season.

Besides Irving, however, no truly elite underclassmen prospects have put two feet in the door (i.e., ruled out a return to college because they have or plan to sign with an agent, which would compromise their college eligibility) just yet, although the likes of UConn star junior guard and national champion Kemba Walker, Baylor freshman Perry Jones, Kansas twin junior forwards, Marcus and Markieff Morris, and the aforementioned Williams, a sophomore, are expected to do so eventually, while players like North Carolinas Barnes and Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight supposedly are in limbo.

Meanwhile, the handful of players who have closed the door on coming back include Illinois freshman forward Jereme Richmond, who struggled through an up-and-down debut season in Champaign that include team-related suspensions. Richmond, a native of Waukegan, Ill., in Chicagos northern suburbs, was a highly-rated high school prospect and although he was inconsistent in his lone season with the Illini, he will likely be selected in the draftalthough with the impending NBA lockout, players who arent considered first-round or even lottery-pick locks should be cautiousdue to his vast potential.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Wendell Carter knows vet teammate Robin Lopez will 'have part of the blueprint for me'

Wendell Carter knows vet teammate Robin Lopez will 'have part of the blueprint for me'

Robin Lopez has played for five different teams in 10 NBA seasons, but not for lack of being a good teammate.

The 29-year-old veteran has been a positive presence in the locker room year in and year out, and especially during a trying 2017-18 in which playing time was scarce.

Lopez, making way for minutes from Cristiano Felicio, appeared in just 64 games, and played 113 minutes in seven games after the All-Star break. But he continued his role as a conssumate teammate and maintained a positive attitude, something that wasn't lost on his teammates.

Now entering a contract year, Lopez is expected to have a role for the Bulls but again will be mentoring another young big, Bulls' first round pick Wendell Carter Jr.

"I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve heard plenty of stories about Robin, seen them first hand. It’s going to be exciting just to get to meet him, get to learn from, being in the league for 10 years," Carter said at his introductory press conference on Monday. "It’s someone that will have part of the blueprint for me."

Veterans have long been an important part of a rookie's acclimation to the league. Lopez was has been teammates with a pair of impressive rookies in Anthony (with the New Orleans Hornets) and Kristaps Porzingis (with the New York Knicks).

Those players were certainly destined for greatness. But having a veteran presence in Lopez had to have helped in the early stages of their careers.

Fred Hoiberg mentioned as much on Friday in how he's seen Lopez from a teammate perspective.

"I think Robin is the perfect guy for Wendell to learn from. You look at what has happened our last few years with young players – with Bobby Portis, with Cristiano Felicio – and Robin is so instrumental," Hoiberg said. When you have a guy on the floor who can teach these guys the ropes, it’s so beneficial.

"I look back on my career, I had Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin, Hall of Fame type players. I learned so much more from them than I did from the  coaches that I played for. Robin is going to be terrific for those players. He’s going to beat the hell out of them on days, and he’s going to be there to support them as well.”

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.