During the 2008-2009 season, the Big East set itself apart from any other conference in the history college basketball. It became the first conference in NCAA Tournament history to not only send five teams to the Sweet Sixteen, but also advance four schools to the Elite Eight. At one time, eight Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25, the first time a conference had ever accomplished such a feat. In the first week of January, the conference topped their own mark, as nine teams were voted into the Top 25.
With that sort of resume, it should come as no surprise that the Big East will hear a record number of player names called during this year's NBA Draft. While only four players from the conference were drafted last year and just six selected in the 2007 NBA Draft, our most recent 2009 NBA Mock Draft has 12 players being drafted. (The previous high was 11 in 2006; 10 of which being among the top 33.)
That number could be even higher if underclassmen Luke Harangody of Notre Dame or Villanova's Scottie Reynolds stay in the draft, but both are expected to return to their respective schools for their senior seasons as they have left that option open by not signing an agent. "We talk off and on. He's doing his thing, I'm doing my thing. We communicate a little bit, but it's kind of shaky what he's feeling," Villanova's Dante Cunningham said of his former teammate at the NBA Draft Combine.
Having played in undoubtedly the toughest conference in the nation should greatly benefit these future NBA'ers at the next level as they will enter the league battle-tested.
Former UConn point guard A.J. Price summed it up best during our exclusive chat at the combine, "Running through the Big East Conference is like you said, kind of like a mini D-League because there were no easy games, a lot of guys who played in that league will be pros if not this year, then eventually, and it prepared me for this time and I'm glad we got a chance to do that," Price said.
Louisville: Clark Bar and T. Will
Louisville, the Big East regular season and conference tournament champions, was one of the two Big East teams to advance to the Final Four. The Cardinals punched their ticket to Detroit mainly because of their tandem of versatile forwards, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. Clark played some of his best basketball down the stretch and shouldn't fall out of the lottery while Williams will likely be a mid-to-late first-rounder.
Williams was very candid at the combine about the big picture of the NBA Draft. "Some others don't really work out because they feel they're already secure in a certain spot, and that's surprises me because you'd think that people who love basketball would play regardless. Other than it's just everybody going for a job and at the end of the day it's just business," Williams said.
Pittsburgh's Dynamic Duo
Pitt's DeJuan Blair is an intriguing prospect. He only measured in at 6-6.5 in shoes which is far from the ideal size for an NBA power forward. But his physicality and 7-2 wingspan will help wipe away any doubt teams have about his future productivity in the NBA. Blair is pretty confident: "I don't think there was a better offensive rebounder by far in this class at all. There's something about that ball, I go get it," he said at the combine. A dominating 22-point, 23-rebound beat-down of UConn's Hasheem Thabeet during the regular season doesn't hurt either.
NBA Draft aficionados are buzzing about Blair astonishing weight loss (40 pounds in three weeks) during his workouts. At the NBA Draft combine, Blair had a sense of humor about it. "I told my mom that this morning she said did you cut off your leg off? She couldn't believe it and that was pretty exciting," Get ready for the next best-selling book: "The DeJuan Blair Diet."
Besides being the object of obsession by ESPN analyst Bob Knight because of his outstanding shot fake, fellow Panther Sam Young should be taken in the last first round and have a solid pro career due to his savvy basketball knowledge and multi-faceted offensive game. "A lot of people don't think I can play the two, but I think when it's all said and done I'm going to be a two," Young said.
In like Flynn
Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn churned out one of the gutsiest performances in conference tournament history this March, when he played 67 of the 70 minutes in the six-overtime classic against UConn and following that up by being on the floor for all 45 minutes of the Orange's OT victory against West Virginia the very next night. He is the perfect combination of a true point guard who can score in a variety of ways when needed to. He currently projects as a mid-lottery pick and should make an immediate impact at the NBA.
Flynn described his game: "I think I have some characteristics of Chris Paul. His tenacity, he's hard as nails, fiery, fires his teammates up, he really knows how to get his teammates in position to where they can score, where they don't have to do much to score. Look at David West and Tyson Chandler; where would they be without Chris Paul?"