UK Men's Basketball

Thanks to the NBA, the SEC might be ready to ‘really take off’

As the common parlance puts it, college players test the waters by placing their names into an NBA Draft. Ultimately they must choose whether to remain in the draft or return to their college teams.

For one Southeastern Conference player — and for obvious reasons — this basketball crossroads begat many punch lines this spring.

By placing his name in this year’s NBA Draft, LSU point guard Tremont Waters said he gained a nickname: “the H2O kid.” When he took a drink from a fountain, someone quipped, “Oh, you’re drinking yourself.”

Waters ultimately decided to return to LSU for his sophomore season. He was one of as many as 18 players who tested the waters, then decided to return to their SEC teams.

League coaches at SEC Media Day on Wednesday saw this as a reason to believe the league’s upward mobility of recent seasons may shift into overdrive.

“I think that’s a home run for the league,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said.

Ole Miss’s new coach, Kermit Davis, said the addition of players who tested the waters to the customary recruiting of heralded freshmen foretold great things ahead.

“That’s when the league is going to really take off,” he said.

Of course, Kentucky has two such players: Reid Travis and PJ Washington. Travis, who decided to transfer to UK after withdrawing from this year’s NBA Draft, said he and the many other returnees will give SEC basketball a boost.

“It impacts it a lot,” he said. “I tell people this all the time. To be able to go through the pre-draft process, your training is totally different than it would be if you were on campus and preparing for the next college basketball season. . . . The strain you put on your body to get through this process . . . , I came out a better player.”

Kentucky head coach John Calipari saw six of his underclassmen declare for the NBA Draft after last season. Butch Dill AP

Several of the other players who tested the waters echoed that sentiment at the SEC Media Day.

“It helped me as a leader more than anything,” Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield said. “How to grow up and be a leader. I matured a lot. It put my work ethic to a different level. Also my mindset.”

Florida guard Jalen Hudson suggested that all the players who tested the waters returned with new perspective on toughness, physical play, athleticism and effort.

“A lot of guys will be playing harder than maybe they have in their career,” he said.

After getting a taste of NBA life, albeit in a preliminary form, Hudson said the typical player’s reaction would be, “Wow, I really want this.”

Earlier this year, Florida Coach Mike White found amusement in a reporter asking how feedback the NBA differed from what a player would receive in college. He smiled as he said there really isn’t that much difference.

Grant Williams was voted Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year by the media on Wednesday. The Tennessee standout was voted the league’s player of the year after last season as well. Butch Dill AP

Hudson vouched for that. “I was pretty similar, which was kind of a shock,” he said. “It was kind of humbling.”

For Hudson, NBA types echoed White’s call for more intensity and assertiveness.

Waters, the H2O kid, took that to another level. He said he had heard similar advice for a long time: get stronger, guard ball-screen action better, become a better leader.

But when he heard it from NBA people, it made a bigger impression.

“The first person that told me that was my dad: that I didn’t have a presence,” the LSU guard said. “I was always laughing and having fun.

“Hearing it from Coach (Will) Wade is one thing. Hearing it from NBA coaches, that’s where I want to be. So why not listen to them?”

Martin did not find offense in players listening more to NBA people than college coaches. He found solace in NBA advice echoing what players had already been told.

“It re-forces to them we have their best interests in mind,” the South Carolina coach said. “So they come back with unbelievable enthusiasm to keep working to move forward.”

Daniel Gafford is back for Arkansas for a sophomore season after surprising many by not entering the NBA Draft. Butch Dill AP

This can be truer than ever. A record 236 players declared for this year’s NBA Draft. That is a product, in part, of the NCAA relaxing its rules about players being able to test the waters while maintaining college eligibility.

That players would find NBA feedback motivating did not surprise SEC consultant Mike Tranghese.

“Well, they should be (motivated),” Tranghese said. “Kids want to hear from NBA people. I think when the NBA tells you you’re not ready, you’re going to be a second-round pick, maybe you don’t do this as well as you need to be doing it.

“I think it has a significant impact.”

Important upcoming dates

Oct. 21: Blue-White Game

Oct. 26: Exhibition vs. Transylvania

Nov. 2: Exhibition vs. Indiana-Pennsylvania

Nov. 6: Season opener vs. Duke at Champions Classic in Indianapolis

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