Players turned down NBA money for senior years

HAVERFORD, Pa. -- Look, there's no reason for breaking news here when a high-profile college basketball player actually states that he enjoys being in college and follows it up with his major.

Still, the comments from Roy Hibbert last week at the Pan Am Games trials were refreshing.

Here is a player who was projected to go in the lottery somewhere in the eight to 14 range, yet he decided to go back to school. Sure, he knew he had a legitimate shot to improve his draft status by a few slots, possibly as high as moving into the top five picks if he stars at Georgetown as a senior. Big men -- especially really, really big men at 7-foot-2 and nearly 280 pounds who actually like to play in the post -- are coveted.

Still, Hibbert didn't decide to go back to Georgetown simply for his draft stock. Instead, he's investing in himself, too.

"I like school," said Hibbert before making the final Pan Am roster. "I'm a government major and have a lot of fun classes. It's easy to go to school, and it would be different if I didn't like school. But it's real fun."

Indiana's D.J. White is another high-profile player who made the Pan Am Games team and was talked about as being a possible early entrant to the NBA draft (although hardly a first-round lock).

I'm sure there are plenty of cynics out there wondering why that would be newsy, but highly ranked prospects don't usually cite their enthusiasm for education among the reasons they wanted to return to college. That's just a fact gleaned from talking to college players for nearly two decades.

Hibbert does seem to be a rare breed, a player who has a keen sense of self. He knows he's not dominant but understands that to be a serious player in the NBA, he must discover a way to be more assertive. The USA Pan Am team will lean heavily Hibbert, but he won't be its go-to scorer. That role -- and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla is convinced of this after watching a scrimmage Tuesday night -- likely will fall to Michigan State's Drew Neitzel.

Still, Hibbert is the true low-post threat. But he recognized in deciding to withdraw from the draft that just being one of the best big men in college basketball hardly translates into being a productive NBA player. He said Georgetown coach John Thompson III and former Hoyas coach and Hall of Fame member John Thompson Jr. called around the league for Hibbert and gave him the range of where he would be drafted. Teams told Thompson that Hibbert could go much higher if he stayed.

But Hibbert doesn't have to be a 20 and 10 player, either. He understands his lot. "Rebound. Every rebound should be mine, and I should block shots and be tough on the other team on the defensive end," Hibbert said of how he could dominate.

Without Jeff Green, who decided to stay in the draft and was selected No. 5 overall, Hibbert will play some stretches in which he'll be a lone sequoia on the court for the Hoyas. With a glut of guards on the roster, JT3 might mix in some smaller, quicker lineups around Hibbert.

Hibbert is prepared for all of it, and he is hopeful that playing in the Pan Am Games in Brazil later this month will prep him for being more versatile. Regardless, Hibbert clearly understands where he has been and where he's headed.

"I think about where I came from [the obscurity in college basketball], and how I worked extremely hard," Hibbert said. "Obviously, people who are high draft picks work for it, as well, but I came out of nowhere and was a diamond in the rough. I'm trying to be perfect for coach Thompson."

White was more of a hot name out of high school. He signed from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to play for Mike Davis at Indiana. He was the 2005 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But 6-9 White spent all but five games of his sophomore season on the bench with two foot injuries. He received a medical redshirt. Last season, he played for Kelvin Sampson and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Although listed as a senior, White could return to Indiana next season after receiving that medical redshirt year, but that's an unlikely proposition, Sampson said.

"But if the year plays out the way it should, then that should be a moot point," Sampson said of White likely declaring for the draft after this season. Indiana lists White as a senior on the Web site because it's his fourth year in school.

"It's nice to know that if something happens, he can come back," Sampson said. "But everyone anticipates he'll have a great senior year."

Sampson said White's senior year starts with the Pan Am Games.

"When we started last year, you could tell D.J. was behind when we got here in early April. He was overweight and his body wasn't in good shape because he had been in that boot, and he didn't look like an athlete. We knew to get him in a program and weight program. … He did a phenomenal job of changing his body.

"He's been our leader, whether it's in the weight room or conditioning, too. D.J. is such a quality young man. He felt last year in the law of order he should defer to our seniors last year, and now he feels like this is his team and his time. It's similar to the way Tim Duncan leads. D.J. is more like a Tim Duncan. He's a high quality, high character kid."

Sampson said there was a lot of fear that his player wouldn't make this Pan Am team, so Sampson has really appreciated White's fight for his spot.

White wasn't projected as a one-and-done player out of high school, according to Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who is an assistant on the Pan Am Games team and recruited White in high school. "The injuries set him back, but he's made good progress," Gottfried said.

White made enough improvement that considering the NBA draft was a real prospect after averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game last season.

With freshman Eric Gordon on board, the Hoosiers have a shot at a Big Ten title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but I just decided to stay in school and everything worked out for the best," White said. "We've got a good team coming back and good recruits, so it's a win-win situation for me. There's always next year. I'm happy to be here."

Cue the violins here if you must, but the reality is Hibbert and White easily could have taken the bait and declared. Instead, two of the top big men in college hoops next season decided to stay put. So it should be no surprise they'll be two of the anchors for Team USA in Brazil, where post production will be at a premium.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.