The results are in. The decisions have been made. Without further (or any) ado, let's quickly evaluate the myriad choices made in the final 48 hours before Sunday night's NBA draft early entry withdrawal deadline.
Now, part two: The returners.
RETURNING TO SCHOOL
Laurence Bowers, forward, Missouri: Like that of teammate and fellow returner Kim English, Bowers' decision to test the waters but ultimately return to school was easy enough to predict. He has some strong traits for an NBA 3 -- namely athleticism in a 6-foot-8 frame -- but he's still a bit raw and would have been a second-round pick at the absolute best. Instead, Bowers poked his head in the door, checked things out, got some feedback and ultimately made the right call.
Kim English, guard, Missouri: English's draft stock never improved in 2010-11. Instead, the one-time breakout candidate struggled for most of the season and, like Bowers, was probably only in the draft to see what scouts thought he needed to improve as a senior. First things first: Getting that lights-out perimeter shot back. If English does that, his stock should trend upward in time for next summer's draft.
Ashton Gibbs, guard, Pittsburgh: For a while there -- right around the time Gibbs reportedly told the media he "entered the draft to get drafted" -- it looked like he was set to make a blunder of a decision this spring. Somewhere along the line (and maybe he always felt this way), Pitt's leading scorer got a healthy dose of reality. That dose likely included the news that Gibbs, while an excellent college scorer, didn't yet have the tools to succeed in a similar role at the next level. Another year of development (and another successful Pittsburgh campaign, which is now more certain than ever) should help in that regard.
Tu Holloway, guard, Xavier: Count me among those that thinks Xavier guard Tu Holloway can one day be an NBA contributor. Also count me among those that believes he needs at least one more year of development to get there. In other words, Holloway's decision to return to college isn't just a boon for the Musketeers' chances of winning yet another A-10 title. It's also a smart move by Holloway. The guard will get to spend another year being the primary offensive option (to the tune of a 28 percent usage rate and the sixth-highest minutes percentage [94.8] in the nation last season) and will have a chance to prove to point-guard hungry NBA teams that he possesses the desired combination of scoring and leadership that can translate on the next level.
Orlando Johnson, guard, UC Santa Barbara: I've thought about it, and I'm pretty sure there's no way to criticize Johnson's decision here. He has proved just about everything he can prove at the college level, but his projected draft status was somewhere in the second round. No matter what Johnson did, he was taking something of a risk. In the end, the less risky proposition was a return to school. Will his projected position improve as a result? We'll see. Until then, no qualms here.
Reggie Johnson, forward, Miami Hurricanes: It never hurts to test the waters. (See: Bowers, English, et al.) That's what Johnson did the past two weeks before eventually deciding to return for his junior season at Miami. This was the right call. He was never in a serious position to get drafted this year, but he is a big, strong center with an NBA body who received "positive feedback" on his footwork and hands in New Jersey this weekend. If he makes a leap as a junior, he could be a first-round pick next summer.
Kevin Jones, forward, West Virginia: If it seems like most of the decisions on this list are worthy of praise, well, that's because they are. (Not so with the early entries, many of whom reached remarkably questionable conclusions.) Jones' decision is no different. He has some intriguing NBA potential -- say "big guy with 3-point range" to an NBA scout and enjoy the ensuing Pavlovian response -- but had a disappointing, scattershot junior season that did little for his projected draft position. Jones should be the focal point of WVU's offense in 2012. If he adapts well to a starring role, he should improve that position in 12 months' time.
Terrence Jones, forward, Kentucky: I'm torn. On one hand, the Kentucky forward was a likely lottery pick in this year's draft. (To wit: Our own Chad Ford projected Jones to be selected No. 11 overall by the Golden State Warriors in his latest mock draft.) Plus, a return means fighting for touches with the likes of Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, the No. 1-ranked small forward and power forward in the class of 2011, respectively. On the other hand, Jones has top-five potential, potential he flashed early in his freshman campaign before a slight late dip in productivity. If a return means showcasing more of that potential, this could pay off. Besides, it's always hard to criticize a player for coming back to a national title contender. But what if Jones is fighting for touches with Gilchrist and Davis? What if he doesn't noticeably improve? What if his draft stock -- especially if Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones all declare for the draft as sophomores -- actually slips?
David Loubeau, forward, Texas A&M: NBA GMs should like Loubeau as a sleeper, one of those "hey, this guy's versatile at 6-foot-8, let's keep an eye on him" prospects. At this point, that's about the best he could hope for. That's why he'll be back at A&M next season. A decision to stay in the draft would have been shocking, inadvisable and choose-your-own-adjective-here.
John Shurna, forward, Northwestern: There's a maxim about the NBA and players' ability to stick within it: All it takes is one elite skill. If true, it bodes well for Northwestern's Shurna, who was one of the best shooters in the nation in 2011. Even better, he is 6-foot-8, meaning he can get his lightning-quick release off over shorter defenders with relative ease. Shurna isn't great at much else, though, at least not where the NBA is concerned, and it'll be interesting to see how much playmaking ability and lateral quickness he can add in the gym as a senior.
Hollis Thompson, forward, Georgetown: One of the great "wait, that guy declared?" entries in the 2011 draft, Thompson was probably never going pro. That's good news for Georgetown fans, who saw flashes of potential from the versatile wing throughout the 2011 season, including an impressive 123.1 offensive rating. With Austin Freeman and Chris Wright lost to the sands of time (or graduation, whichever you prefer), Thompson will get a much higher portion of his team's touches this coming season. If he is nearly as efficient, he could find himself in the midst of a breakout year -- with a vastly improved 2012 draft position as his reward.