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For Wake Forest's John Collins, testing the pro waters just makes good sense - Mar 27, 2017

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John Collins
The 23.9 points and 9.5 rebounds he averaged as a junior for Kansas in 1986-87 weren't enough to convince Danny Manning he was ready for the NBA.

He knew all along he would return to play his senior season for coach Larry Brown, and his father, Ed Manning, an assistant with the Jayhawks. So when the NBA draft was conducted in June of 1987, the San Antonio Spurs were left to cash their first pick in on a center from Navy named David Robinson.

'At the end of the day I wasn't ready, physically and mentally for that level,'' Manning recalled last week. 'But I had the mentors that had those experiences in Coach Brown and my father.

'I remember talking to my dad and it was 'You're not ready.' And it wasn't skill-wise in basketball. It was lifestyle. It was living. It was 'You've got to have more weight behind you. You've got to get stronger.'

'It was all those things that factored into it.''

Almost thirty years later, Manning is the head coach at Wake Forest, where he coaches a player contemplating a leap to the NBA after his sophomore season. John Collins (208-F-97), a first-team All-ACC center, said on Wednesday that he will declare for the NBA draft.

He was one of two ACC stars to make such an announcement last week. But unlike freshman Jayson Tatum, who has made it clear he has played his last game at Duke, Collins will test the waters without hiring an agent, leaving open the possibility he will return to Wake Forest for next season.

'I want to make an informed decision about what is best for my future, whether that is turning pro at this time or returning to Wake Forest for my junior season,'' Collins explained.

The rules of entering the draft have relaxed, one concession after another, since Spencer Haywood's successful lawsuit of 1971 resulted in players being eligible for the NBA before the graduation of their senior class of college. But thanks to a ruling the NCAA enacted in January of 2016, the right to test the NBA waters without losing college eligibility has never been easier.

The rules are so relaxed that the question is no longer why a good player should consider leaving college early.

The question of today is, why not?

Today, a player can declare for the NBA, work out for teams and gather information and evaluations as to where they might expect to be drafted. And as long as they don't hire an agent, they still have until 10 days after the NBA combine to withdraw from the draft without losing their college eligibility.

The combine is scheduled this year for May 9-14 in Chicago.

Last year, before the first draft under the new rules, 57 players declared for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, only to withdraw before the deadline and return to college. Seven played this past season in the ACC: Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina, Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya of N.C. State, Jaron Blossingame of Clemson, V.J. Beachem of Notre Dame, and Andrew White of Syracuse.

'You look at the rules and guys have a chance to go test it,'' Manning said. 'A lot of people want to go test it. I think a lot of it just depends on the individual, the person that the individual is listening to when talking with.

'I just hope everybody does all their homework.''

Part of that homework is knowing the three-year salary scale for a player drafted in the first round. In the 2016 draft, the scale for the first player chosen (Ben Simmons) ranged from $4.9 million the first season to $5.5 million the third season. For the 30th and final pick of the first round (Damian Jones), it ranged from $976,000 as a rookie to $1.1 million for the third season.

The scale of Juan Hermangomez, a Spaniard chosen by the Denver Nuggets with the 15th pick, ranged from $1.6 million as a rookie to $1.8 million the third season.

A survey of mock drafts reveals that opinions on where Collins might be drafted vary dramatically. One site,, has him going as early as No. 12 to the Portland Blazers. And yet Sports Illustrated conducted an early mock draft (current as of Jan. 26) that didn't have Collins picked in the first round.

ACC players SI did project being drafted in the first round were Jonathan Isaac of Florida State (No. 3 to Phoenix), Jayson Tatum of Duke (No. 4 to Miami), Dennis Smith of N.C. State (No. 7 to Orlando), Harry Giles of Duke (No. 15 to Denver), Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson (No. 20 to Denver), Donovan Mitchell of Louisville (No. 23 to Brooklyn), Tyler Lyden of Syracuse (No. 24 to Toronto), Justin Jackson of North Carolina (No. 25 to Utah), and Dwayne Bacon of Florida State (No. 27 to Portland).

Which raises the question of what Collins can expect from an NBA career if Andrew Sharp, who compiled SI's mock draft, is sharp enough to successfully project what will happen at the draft on June 17. What if Collins isn't one of the first 30 picks of the draft?

A website,, used information from Basketball Reference to compile a chart of the fate of players drafted in the second round from 2003 through 2013. Only 16.7 percent of second-round picks had a NBA career lasting at least three seasons. Conversely, 26.1 percent never made an NBA roster, and 47.9 percent played in the league for less than three seasons.

The history of players leaving college early is not a good one for Wake Forest. Two sophomores, James Johnson and Jeff Teague, left after the 2008-09 season. Another, Al-Farouq Aminu, left after the next season.

The severe drain in talent was only one reason for the decline of the program, and the six seasons the Deacons spent watching the NCAA Tournament from home before finally making it back to the field of 68 this season. But it was a big reason.

Schools such as Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina have proven they can overcome such losses through recruiting the best freshmen in the nation. Wake Forest, to date, has not.

These are all questions facing not only John Collins, but Danny Manning as he prepares his team for the 2017-18 season. But the question Manning said he has long since answered was whether he made the right decision by returning to college for his senior season.

The Kansas Jayhawks, dubbed Danny and the Miracles, overcame a 21-11 regular season to roll through the NCAA Tournament to the national championship. Manning was both Player of the Year in the NCAA and the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.

Picked first by the Los Angeles Clippers that summer, Manning outlasted recurring knee injuries to play 15 seasons in the NBA.

'It worked out for me,'' Manning said. 'I can't complain.''   

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