Dribble Handoff: Trevor Keels, Drew Timme among those who should withdraw from NBA Draft, return to college

With the NBA Draft Combine behind us and the June 1 draft deadline approaching for early drafters, some college basketball players are pondering tough decisions about whether to stay in the draft or return to school. Some notable names have already come forward, with Louisiana Tech big man Kenneth Lofton Jr. remaining in the draft and other college stars like Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis returning to school.

Dozens more are taking their time, processing all the information they’ve been given by NBA leaders, and trying to make the right decision. Players who stay in the draft but aren’t considered lottery picks are at risk because those who slip through to the second round don’t have guaranteed contracts. Those who don’t get drafted at all end up struggling through the hopes of earning two-way contracts as undrafted free agents, with the option of ending up in the G League or abroad.

Given that many players now have an opportunity to make money while playing college basketball, going back to school can always be more appealing than living on the fringes of professional basketball. However, some are just ready to start the next chapter of their lives and are willing to leave some college credentials on the table in order to capitalize on their youth and begin their professional careers.

With the retirement deadline approaching June 1, who would benefit the most if they retired from the draft and returned for another college season? Our writers make their picks for this week’s dribbling handover.

Drew TimmeGonzaga

Timme is the obvious answer because I truly believe next season he can have more fun and make more money in college than he would have or play as a pro basketball player considering the most likely scenario is, that he’s playing professionally anywhere other than the NBA. The G League is great for guys with no better options. But Timme clearly has a better option — specifically, returning to Gonzaga as a First Team All-American for a top-five team and making big bucks through NIL opportunities. How much money could Timme make? Not sure. But if Nijel Pack is worth $400,000 to someone, Drew Timme should be getting at least three times that while playing every game on national TV and in packed arenas while trying to become an enduring legend as the player who brought the Zags to her first National Leads championship in school history. As I always say about this stuff, it’s ultimately up to Timme and I will respect every decision he makes because it’s his life he’s living. But other than that, if I were him, I’m pretty sure it would be an easy decision for me for all of the reasons mentioned above. – Gary Parish

Jaylin Williams (Arkansas)

He’s getting closer. I don’t think he’s a viable top-40 NBA pick just yet, but the 6-10 Williams is growing out of his game and could develop into a first-rounder if he decides to come back and start his junior season with the Razorbacks to play. Arkansas will have a fall as a top-five preseason team if Williams is on the roster. That would double the impact as it would be the highly anticipated season of Hog Hoops since the 1990s. Williams finished strong, averaging 14.3 points and 11.8 rebounds in Arkansas’ four NCAA tournament games. He shot 24% of 3 last season; He could reasonably get that north of 30%, juicing his stash in the process. Of all the players hesitating on what to do, Williams feels as close to 50/50 as it gets at the moment. However, he might have the best of everything when he comes back: Arkansas wouldn’t need him to be THE guy every night, but there would be nights when that would happen. He could lead a top-tier SEC team and Final Four contender, and he’d almost certainly improve his stats from last season’s averages of 10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. A purely American campaign is possible. -Matt Norlander

Trevor Keels (Duke)

This feels like one of the really tough stay-or-go decisions of this cycle and reminds me a bit of previous decisions like Isaiah Joe in 2020, Johnny Juzang in 2021 and EJ Liddell in 2021. There aren’t any clearly obvious and correct answer here. Unless Keels is a first-round player, he will be in his 30s and likely on a guaranteed contract. That’s very appealing. This is precisely the area where, in my opinion, one should at least consider going back to school.

Liddell’s path might be one Keels can walk – he eventually returned to college, morphed his body and worked his way up to a likely top-20 selection after being projected as a late first-rounder or early second-rounder – but here there are there is no guarantee that he is. d improve his inventory with another season (although I think that’s probably the best option). Juzang’s path, for example, is a different but similar decision from a year ago that could serve as a cautionary tale. He may have been a late first or early second round pick a year ago and is almost certainly in the early to mid second round range this time. His stock didn’t necessarily decline, but another year in college didn’t improve his stock. In hindsight, he might have been better off driving the pinnacle of his blistering Final Four run into the NBA.

With Keels, I feel like he’s more likely to drop out than not. But I’ve read that he would benefit more from one more year of college, and potentially reap significant financial gains, provided he is healthy. Still only 18, he could have another season at Duke in a more prominent role while really — consistently — showing what he can do at the collegiate level while proving his true worth to NBA teams. I’m certainly in no position to tell an 18-year-old what to do, especially with so much money at stake, but in a blue-blooded program like Duke, he’d be well-placed to make up for any lost income from postponing his Supplementing NBA career with lucrative money on NIL deals, one would think. There’s probably no right decision, but he’ll gain more from going back to school than staying in the military. – Kyle Boone

Kris Murray (Iowa)

Kris Murray doesn’t have to look far to find the blueprint for how pulling out of the draft and returning to Iowa for another season could benefit him in the long term. All he has to do is look at the mock designs that have his brother Keegan as the castle to be chosen in the lottery after his breakout season as a sophomore. The identical twins are not identical players, but they are so alike that it’s easy to see parallels in how they carry over to the next level.

A versatile 6-8 forward, Kris would have an opportunity to make a big move next season, much like Keegan did when he led the Big Ten in goals last season. He’s already demonstrated enough skill as a versatile defender and outside threat to be a likely draft pick if he stays inside. But if he comes back with 35 games under his belt as the main option for the Hawkeyes, he could become a lottery pick, too. -David Cobb

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