Posted: Monday June 19, 2006 11:53AM; Updated: Monday June 19, 2006 12:43PM
Florida fans didn't have to sweat for too long before Al Horford and his classmates announced they would return to defend their title next season.
Have questions or feedback? E-mail Luke Winn.
With the deadline for underclassmen to stay in the NBA draft now passed -- and every top-flight prospect not named Aaron Gray opting to remain in the pool -- here are the five biggest winners and losers of the college hoops' offseason:
1. Florida The Gators pulled off the improbable, going from unranked to national champs a year after stars David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson departed. And then something more inconceivable occurred in Gainesville: Florida's nucleus of sophomore super heroes, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, decided the NBA could wait a year. And unlike Walsh, Roberson and Lee, these kids were essentially guaranteed first-round picks. One pro scout I talked to at the Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando estimated that had they jumped, Noah would have gone in the top five, Horford in the top 20 and Brewer in the top 25. They'll do that in 2007 instead ... after making a run at another national championship.
2. Pittsburgh Mike Gray said his son, Aaron, didn't make up his mind about the draft until Sunday morning. "We talked about so much over the past two and a half days," Mike said. "[Aaron] would keep sleeping on [the decision], but we processed all the information and he decided he wanted to go back to Pitt and enjoy his senior year." The Panthers, no doubt, are rejoicing after hearing their 7-foot junior center's intentions. By returning, Gray vaulted Pitt into the preseason top 15 -- and became the front-runner for Big East Player of the Year following a junior season in which he averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. "It's a completely different team if I don't come back," Aaron said at the Pre-Draft Camp. With Gray and solid guards Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon -- a backcourt that may get better now that Carl Krauser is gone -- Pitt is a very dangerous team.
3. LSU No one (at least no one who followed mock drafts) expected Tyrus Thomas to stick around. The Tigers' victory came on the same day T-Time declared for the draft, when the Big Baby sitting next to him at the podium, Glen Davis, said he was staying for his junior year. Davis was the '05-06 SEC Player of the Year after averaging 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds and said he's in "Terminator Baby" mode this summer, dropping more weight from his 315-pound frame after a disappointing showing at the Final Four. The Tigers' backcourt needed help with Darrel Mitchell graduating, and Marquette transfer Dameon Mason, an athletic, 6-5 scorer, should provide it. Suspended (and injured) point guard Tack Minor will resurface, too; he's a serious upgrade, skill-wise, from freshman Ben Voogd, but Minor needs to shed his team-chemistry-ruining reputation.
4. Kansas State The Wildcats are in the W category, under the assumption that Bob Huggins' suspension of leading scorer Cartier Martin isn't long-term, because the supporting cast Huggins is bringing in could turn K-State into a bubble team. The controversial ex-Cincinnati coach said he simply "set out to fill needs" after being hired in March, but his first recruit was a bit more than that -- he was 7-foot-3 Jason Bennett out of Jacksonville, the nation's No. 10-rated center. "Who doesn't need a 7-footer?" Huggins joked. He also added Daytona Beach Community College shooting guard Blake Young (as well as Young's coach, Brad Underwood) and Bennett's teammate from the Miami Tropics AAU squad, 6-11 Luis Colon. Tyree Evans, a former Huggins recruit at Cincy, may join the team if he's cleared of charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts -- not exactly a "winning" addition in the upstanding-citizen department, but Evans was a prolific scorer in high school in Richmond, Va.
5. Kansas The Jayhawks essentially did one thing since their first-round exit from the NCAA tournament: They added yet another McDonald's All-American to their stable (number five in the past two years, if you're counting), 6-foot-9 forward Darrell "Slim Shady" Arthur. He said he saw himself playing for KU in a dream the night before his decision, and therefore eschewed top choice Baylor to play for Bill Self. KU's real coup, however, was simply keeping a trio of future first-rounders -- freshmen Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright -- from bailing out of Lawrence too quickly. Now they get a shot to win the Big 12 title and perhaps make a trip to Atlanta (site of next season's Final Four).
Other winners: Duke (for keeping Josh McRoberts and landing five-star New Jersey recruit Lance Thomas), Nevada (Nick Fazekas pulled out of the draft), Seton Hall (new coach Bobby Gonzalez landed a stud backcourt in recruits Eugene Harvey and Larry Davis), Rice (future pro -- and leading scorer -- Morris Almond opted to return to school) and Colorado (retained guard Richard Roby for another season).