Never has the NBA Draft had such an impact in the college basketball world as it did with the 2004 class. As many as nine high school players are expected to make the leap from high school to the NBA, including the top four prospects in the Rivals150.
High school phenoms Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston and Josh Smith are expected to be lottery picks, with Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, J.R. Smith, Robert Swift, Dorrell Wright and LaMarcus Aldridge jockeying for position in the first round.
As should be expected, the affect of the early entries has drastically changed the team rankings from the early signing period to the late period.
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However, the news wasn’t all bad as Randolph Morris, Darius Washington, Marvin Williams, Rudy Gay and Juan Palacios resisted the temptation to make the jump and chose to spend at least one year in college.
Tubby Smith and the Wildcats finish with a bang
The big story of the year was Kentucky’s strong finish, adding three players in the late period who were ranked as five-star prospects by Rivals.com. Head coach Tubby Smith won a hard-fought battle between Georgia Tech and the NBA to win the services of No. 10 rated Randolph Morris. In addition, the Wildcats inked Rivals.com No. 9 prospect Joe Crawford and Oak Hill point guard Rajon Rondo, who hit the charts at No. 25. New York shooting guard Ramel Bradley signed in the early period, and the transfer of former Western Kentucky star Patrick Sparks gives the Wildcats the nation’s top ranked class.
Two late signees vault Jayhawks to nation’s second best class
Alex Galindo (UTEP) and C.J. Giles (Miami) were released from their letters-of-intent after coaching changes, and Kansas was quick to sign both 4-star prospects who occupy spots in the Rivals150. The early signing period was also good to the Jayhawks, with Russell Robinson, Alexander Kaun and Darnell Jackson inking to play in Lawrence, but the two late signings moved the class among the nation’s elite.
NBA entries cost top programs spots in nation rankings
North Carolina, Louisville, and Duke were perhaps hit the hardest by early defections. Despite losing Sebastian Telfair and junior college star Donta Smith, the Cardinals grabbed a top 10 class. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils weren’t as fortunate.
Livingston’s choice to bypass college left Coach K without a point guard, the top priority in the 2004 class. The Blue Devils were left with two solid players in McDonald’s all-American and California’s all time leading scorer, Demarcus Nelson, and top 100 prospect David McClure.
After releasing JamesOn Curry from his letter-of-intent and losing J.R. Smith, the Tar Heels brought in two qualify players in versatile five-star big forward Marvin Williams and California point guard Quentin Thomas.
Two of the nation’s top prospects wait late into the process before deciding
While the recent trend in college basketball is to get prospects committed quickly, this year was an exception as two of the nation’s top 10 prospects waited until the last minute to make their college destinations known.
Perhaps the most drawn out commitment was the see-saw battle for Michigan shooting guard Malik Hairston. The versatile scorer took his time with his decision and kept fans hanging on until early May. After several official visits, he narrowed his list down to Oregon and Kansas before announcing for the Ducks.
The top big men remaining the 2004 class, Randolph Morris, also took his time as he weighed the option of skipping college for the NBA while also trying to choose between Kentucky and Georgia Tech. The Wildcats eventually won the battle for his services, and his signature vaulted Kentucky to the top of the team rankings.