Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated titled, “Stay or Go: An Agent’s Perspective on NBA Draft Early Entry Decisions.” In that article, I broke down the business components underclassmen face if they enter and remain in the NBA draft.
Today, I’d like to highlight a handful of players that elected to return to school prior to the 2019 NBA Draft and are likely to reap the rewards as a result.
Position: PF | Height: 6’9” | Weight: 220 | College: Dayton | Class: Sophomore
Currently slotted as the 2nd pick in the Babcock Hoops 2020 NBA Mock Draft, Obi Toppin is perhaps the poster child for the concept of returning to school to increase one’s draft stock. After entering his name and testing the NBA draft waters following the 2018-19 college season, Toppin decided to withdraw his name and return to Dayton for his sophomore year. His return has been nothing short of spectacular as he started the season hot “right out of the gate,” and hasn’t slowed down one bit. Toppin is considered to be one of the front runners for the Naismith College Player of the Year and has led his #6 ranked Dayton Flyers to an 20-2 record so far. He has routinely put on a display of jaw-dropping highlight plays each game and has even drawn some comparisons to former NBA star, Amar’e Stoudemire. It's laughable to think that he didn't even receive an invite to last year's NBA Draft Combine. Regardless, do not expect Toppin to be on the board for long come June.
Position: SF | Height: 6’6” | Weight: 213 | College: Vanderbilt | Class: Sophomore
Although he would have likely been drafted had he been in the 2019 NBA Draft, Aaron Nesmith chose to return to Vanderbilt for his sophomore season without even testing the NBA draft waters. I assume he returned to school with something to prove, and well, he's done just that -- he has been terrific this season! Prior to a season-ending foot injury a few weeks ago, Nesmith shined for first-year head coach, Jerry Stackhouse, averaging 23.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, while shooting an astounding 51.2% from the field, 52.2% from three-point range, and 82.5% from the free-throw line. A good athlete and a great shooter, Nesmith is certainly another player that was put on this list without hesitation, as he is projected as a mid-first round pick.
Position: PG | Height: 6’5” | Weight: 175 | College: Iowa State | Class: Sophomore
Despite some intrigue from NBA scouts last year, Tyrese Haliburton chose to return to Iowa State for his sophomore season without declaring for the NBA draft. After a productive summer as a member of the U.S. U19 FIBA World Cup team, Haliburton has had a terrific season for the Cyclones, averaging an impressive 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 2.5 steals per game, while shooting 50.0% from the field, 41.0% from three-point range, and 83.7% from the free-throw line. A thin but tall point guard that possesses a terrific floor game and basketball IQ, Haliburton has certainly helped himself by returning to school this year and has emerged as a likely mid-first round pick, at the very least.
Position: C | Height: 6’10” | Weight: 240 | College: Minnesota | Class: Sophomore
Following a shoulder injury that was suffered at the Nike Hoop Summit prior to attending the University of Minnesota, Daniel Oturu, started his college career coming off a surgery that required months of rehabilitation. Despite the setback, he had a solid showing his freshman season. However, he chose not to enter his name in the 2019 NBA Draft and return to school, a choice that is proving to be a smart one. At 6’10”, 240 pounds, Oturu has elevated his game dramatically this year, averaging 19.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game, while showing some potential to shoot the ball as well. Oturu’s name continues to keep buzzing and all indications are that he has played himself into being a likely first-round pick.
Position: SF | Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | College: Louisville | Class: Junior
After his sophomore season, Jordan Nwora entered his name in the 2019 NBA Draft with the primary intent to gather feedback from teams, ultimately deciding to return to Louisville for another year. This season, Nwora has led the #5 ranked Cardinals to a 19-3 record. An NBA level shooter, standing at 6’7” and 225 pounds, Nwora is averaging 19.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 42.5% from 3-point range. He has solidified himself as a worthy candidate for teams to consider selecting in the mid-to-late first round, naturally warranting his inclusion on this list.
Players that are deciding whether to “stay or go” have a lot of factors to consider and it’s never an easy decision. However, when deciding what course of action to take, a player should consider all factors. For many, returning to school is the best choice. The players on this list should serve as proof of that concept.
Best of luck to the players on this list moving forward and also to other underclassmen that will face similar decisions in the near future.
(If you are an NBA prospect that decides to return to school -- please make sure to get disability insurance!)