Life in NBA not as easy as planned for ex-Syracuse star Greene
Donte Greene wonders what would have happened if he had stayed at Syracuse
Since the 1980s, draft classes have become progressively younger
While Greene was picked in the first round, many players are left with few options
Last spring, Syracuse basketball coaches sat with their oversized, affable freshman and spelled out the pros and cons of leaving school early. They painted a worst-case scenario for Donte Greene, one in which the 6-foot-9 big man fell out of the top-10 in the NBA draft, lost thousands of dollars as he slid deep into the first round and eventually rode the bench as a rookie for a losing team. Greene listened intently, finally promising his coaches, "Whatever cards I'm dealt, I'm ready for."
A year later, Greene is a proud and eager employee of the Sacramento Kings. He's upgraded his 10-year-old Toyota Sequoia to a late-model BMW 7-series. He no longer eats in campus food lines. For all intents and purposes, Greene is enjoying all the perks of a lifestyle afforded to an NBA player. But almost nothing has gone as planned.
"Basically everything I told him that could happen, that he wouldn't like, he saw it all his first year," says Rob Murphy, a Syracuse assistant and mentor to Greene.
As an early entrant in last year's draft, Greene was selected in the first round but traded twice before the season even began. He spent a week in January stuck in the NBA Developmental League and started just four games for the Kings, averaging 3.8 points and 1.6 rebounds.
"Man, it was crazy," Greene says of his rookie year. "Just nothing like I expected."
As the NBA draft again approaches, the 21-year-old forward says he can't help but monitor this year's crop of prospects, reflect on the 12 months that passed since the Memphis Grizzlies selected him with the 25th pick and entertain an endless string of questions. He looks at guys like Blake Griffin and can't help but wonder. Griffin is a good friend, who left Oklahoma after two seasons. He's a similar size and stature to Greene and is expected to be the first player chosen in this year's draft.
"To see him in that position, you think, what if I would've stayed? Where would I be?" says Greene. "I could still be with the Kings, but would I be a top-5 pick? There've been lots of what-ifs. Especially when you're not playing, you got all that time to think. And I loved college so much, loved Coach [Jim] Boeheim. I just keep telling myself, this is what you wanted, you wanted to be in this spot. Keep working."
Greene's story isn't unique. While the draft landscape has become increasingly populated by underclassmen, Hall of Fame careers aren't etched in stone on draft day. In the 1980s, nearly all of the first-round draft picks were seniors, and a decade later, seniors still comprised more than half of the draft. In the last 10 years, however, it's been a young man's game.
Last year, 69 underclassmen filed as early-entry candidates. Of those, 29 were drafted while 10 others never heard their name called (30 others withdrew from the draft and returned to school). While Greene was fortunate as a late first-round pick, others saw their NBA dreams deferred. Instead of flying first-class to NBA cities or playing another season or two of college ball, they spent last year competing professionally in Austria, Israel, Poland, Italy and the Philippines.
"These young guys, they get all this attention, everyone telling them they're good, and they listen to it. So they come out because they want to be stars," says Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting.
A lot of them don't make it.
It's the risk every early entrant takes. Only first-round contracts are guaranteed, so most underclassmen considering an early exit from school choose to dip a toe into the water -- declaring for the draft without an agent, thus preserving collegiate eligibility -- before making a final decision. This year, more than 60 college players filed as early-entrants and as of Monday's deadline 39 stayed in to try for one of the precious few NBA jobs that open up each year.
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