When you come to a fork in the road, take it. At least that's how the old expression goes.
Junior forward Nikola Vucevic has come to the point; the point in time where he will be forced to make a rather important decision, whether to return to USC for his senior season or test the murky NBA draft waters.
There is no doubt that 6'10" big man can play and has pro potential. This past season, Vucevic averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while leading USC to an NCAA tournament appearance one year after a self-imposed postseason ban. His contributions to a 19-win USC team were no doubt invaluable, and for the Trojans to repeat their success in 2012, his presence is essentially a prerequisite.
Oddly enough, however, it doesn't appear as if Kevin O'Neill is going out of his way to persuade Vucevic to stay in school.
"Everybody says, 'Recruit Nik back,'" O'Neill told Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times. "That would be insulting to Nik. I'm going to tell him facts. Nik's a smart guy. If I was to try to give him some schmoozy recruiting pitch, it ain't going to work."
But the problem lies in the fact that there does not appear to be a consensus in where Vucevic would be selected in June's NBA Draft. RealGM projects him as the 28th overall pick, DraftExpress pegs him as the 48th overall prospect and NBADraft.net does not have him selected in either the first or second round.
So what does he do?
More after the jump.
First off, unlike in the NFL, Vucevic can declare and wait until nearly one week before the draft (June 13) before pulling out. He can be evaluated by scouts in attempt to find some determination on where he will be taken. In short, it will probably provide the best indication of where he will be selected, as his evaluation will be taken by scouts and general managers, not agents as is often the case with the NFL.
As a result, don't be shocked that O'Neill might in fact encourage Vucevic to gauge his draft status, which would provide a valuable learning experience.
These are obviously tough decisions, but staying in schools does appear to be a reasonable option. For one, Vucevic, by all indications, is in good standing academically and financially, thus eliminating the "need" to go pro. Remember, in 2007, Davon Johnson declared prematurely because of grade issues. Now, he plays professionally in France.
So Vucevic doesn't have to leave. As a result, unless he's assured that he will be selected in round one, staying at USC would appear to be the smart call, as second round selections are not given guaranteed contracts. So, he does have that luxury.
But then again, draft projections in March are no sure thing anyway. There's still plenty of time before real decisions have to be made.
According to recent reports released this afternoon, Vucevic might not be the only one associated with the basketball program leaving Los Angeles. Assistant coach Bob Cantu, who has been on staff for 10 years and filled in for O'Neill during the team's Pac-10 semifinal matchup with Arizona, has been said to be a possible candidate for the vacancy at Fresno State. Per the LA Times:
USC men's basketball associate head coach Bob Cantu, who has been at the school for a decade, has emerged as a candidate to become head coach at Fresno State, which announced Thursday that it had fired coach Steve Cleveland.
According to multiple people close to the situation, officials at Fresno State had been inquiring about Cantu even before Cleveland was let go. A key question is whether Fresno State is looking to hire an assistant to become its next head coach or if it wants to find a current head coach.
In a recent interview, Cantu said he wasn't sure how much longer he would be at USC, and that he aspired to one day become a head coach.
"You want to have goals in this profession and that's definitely my goal," Cantu said. "When the right time comes and the right opportunity comes, I'd definitely like to look into it."
This isn't a tough one to figure out. Cantu's gone. He's more than qualified to be an assistant on the college level, and the fact that he wasn't swooped up by a program earlier while on Tim Floyd's staff is rather surprising.
He's a great recruiter and knows the Southern California region very well, which would give Fresno State more than an adequate coach and recruiter. As a result, it'd be a big loss for 'SC. But either way, they've been fortunate to have him this long to begin with.
Both developments will be interesting to watch.