Meeks right to follow his heart


Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 16, 2009 

John Clay

Jodie Meeks made the right choice.

He followed his heart.

Oh, sure, Meeks could have pleased Kentucky fans and those of us who would have enjoyed his deep threes for another basketball season. He could have joined John Calipari's star-studded roster and helped in the hunt for banner No. 8.

But his heart wouldn't have been in it. Not completely. It's obvious that by participating in all those workouts and waiting until decision day before announcing his intention to remain in the NBA Draft, remaining in the draft was his intention all along.

After all, there's no time like the present.

There are two types of NBA players. There are the chosen ones, the lottery picks, and the first-round selections who take their appointed spots on NBA rosters. And then there are the ones who play their way onto a team.

Meeks will have to play his way on, just like Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike did as undrafted free agents after the 2005 draft, just like Joe Crawford did as a late second-round selection last year. None of that UK trio started out in the NBA. All have played their way there.

Hayes stayed in college the full four years, yet went unselected after Kentucky lost to Michigan State in the finals of the 2005 Austin Regional, one game away from the Final Four. But Hayes spent a brief stint in the NBA Developmental League, then hooked on with the Houston Rockets for 40 games of the 2005-06 season.

Azubuike was a surprise early entrant after 2005, deciding to forego his senior season. He, too, went undrafted, and spent more than a year in the D-League before joining up with Golden State for 41 games in 2006-07.

This past season, Hayes was a key reserve who helped Houston take the Lakers to seven games in the NBA Western Conference semifinals. Azubuike started 51 games for the Warriors, averaging 14.4 points a game.

Then there's Crawford, who stayed four seasons, finishing his collegiate career on a high in 2008. Yet it was the 58th pick before the L.A. Lakers took Crawford in last year's draft. He failed to make the Lakers roster, spent time in the D-League, and ended up playing two games for the New York Knicks.

Point is, the trio had to pay their dues outside the league before working their way inside the league, and the guess here is that Meeks will have to do the same. Just not sure another year in college will help his stock all that much.

So maybe the Georgia native figured it was better to start now, when he can do it and get paid for it, where he can do it against competition that might elevate his game.

What does this mean for the current Cats? No team loses a three-year veteran and top scorer and is the better for it. Yet Calipari and Co. are likely to muddle through somehow.

Remember, Meeks would have been learning a new offense just as John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Darnell Dodson, and the holdovers will all be playing in a new offense. Even had Meeks stayed, a learning curve would have been required.

But the best point of comparison is Meeks' teammate from last season.

Patrick Patterson initially placed his name in the NBA Draft hopper, as well. But the junior-to-be shut down the evaluation process practically before it began. He wanted to stay in college, have some fun, play in an NCAA Tournament. Patterson's heart wasn't in turning pro.

Meeks' heart is obviously in a different place, a place that tells him it's time to move on. Given that, he made the right choice.

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