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One well-schooled rookie

Blazers' Roy flourishing after four years of college ball

Posted: Tuesday March 27, 2007 4:31PM; Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2007 5:50PM
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Guard Brandon Roy (left) has been a go-to guy down the stretch of close games for the Blazers despite being just a rookie.
Guard Brandon Roy (left) has been a go-to guy down the stretch of close games for the Blazers despite being just a rookie.
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If Ohio State freshman phenom Greg Oden needs any help in deciding whether to stay in school or jump to the NBA, he might want to place a call to Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy.

Roy is more than the odds-on favorite to win this year's Rookie of the Year award. He's also the latest Exhibit A in the case to be made for staying in school.

Five years ago as a high school star in the state of Washington, Roy declared for the NBA draft. He ultimately withdrew his name (after a particularly bad workout with the Blazers of all teams) and decided instead to attend the University of Washington.

Roy wound up staying all four years, and went on to become Pac-10 Player of the Year as a senior and the sixth overall pick in last June's draft.

"I talked to him the year he was talking about coming out and going pro, and I didn't think it was a good move for him," Blazers coach Nate McMillan recalled Monday night before his team's game in Chicago. "Turns out, it has worked out real good for him. He had a real good college career. His game grew and he had success. As a result, he's now a very mature player."

I wanted to ask Roy about his decision to stay in college Monday, and how much he thought it had boosted his overall career. Unfortunately, the 6-6 swingman wasn't at the United Center. It turns out he had to miss the game because his girlfriend had gone into labor delivering their first child, and he had to fly back to Seattle to be at her side.

But anybody who has seen Roy play this season can tell instantly that he's not a typical rookie. He carries himself on and off the court with the poise and confidence of a veteran. Indeed, McMillan often runs the ball through his hands at the end of games.

"He's really taken the reins of the team," Blazers director of player personnel Kevin Pritchard said. "Down the stretch, he takes big shots. We've had probably eight or nine games where he's made a shot or had an assist at the end [to tie the game or take the lead]. He wants the ball, and Nate believes in him.

"He's just an extremely mature kid. It's the first thing you notice about him when you meet him. The way he talks and deals with people -- for a rookie, it's amazing."

That's why Roy's success this season is so interesting against the backdrop of this week's Final Four.

Is a player like Oden, who reportedly enjoys college and is in no hurry to join the NBA, better off waiting a few years to turn pro and really developing his game so that he's able to light up the NBA right away?

Or should he take the sure money now, even if it means he might get lost in the shuffle his first few seasons on an NBA bench and perhaps lose confidence and never blossom into the player he could be?

It's easy to say a player should do the former and bypass the NBA's riches. But how many of us would actually do it? As McMillan said, "What happens if you tear up a knee?"

Yet in Roy's case, the decision to wait seems so clearly to have worked out to his benefit. He will probably have a much better pro career now than he would have had he joined the league as a high schooler five years ago. He will likely be Rookie of the Year. He will get more endorsements. He will be a better and more confident player. He might even make more money in the long run.

What would Roy tell Oden if the 7-foot Ohio State phenom called him to ask for advice? I wasn't able to find out Monday night.

But, according to McMillan, Roy does have a message for fellow Seattle native and current Washington freshman 7-footer Spencer Hawes as he gets set to decide whether or not to turn pro.

"I talked to Brandon a few weeks ago, and he said he wants to talk to Spencer Hawes about staying in school," McMillan said. "He thinks it would be the right thing for him to do."