B.J. Mullens is making a mistake. There, I said it. The highly-touted Ohio State freshman seven-footer declared for the 2009 NBA Draft after one year in Columbus in which he didn't even hold the starting job (though he was named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.) While he has the athleticism and potential to be a quality big man at the next level, he is nowhere near ready to contribute anytime soon and should get used to sitting on the bench even more often than he did this past season.
His skill set is still very raw and he would have been better served returning to the Buckeyes to further develop his game, become more physical, and learn how to dominate a game in the paint. A solid sophomore campaign likely would have secured his status as a sure-fire lottery pick in 2010. Instead, Mullens is projected to be drafted in the mid teens/early 20s later this month. When asked about who his game can be compared to Mullens said: "I don't care myself to one certain person, I can pinpoint certain moves that I do. There are moves that Kevin Garnett does that I like a lot, moves that Dirk Nowitzki does that I like a lot, so I try to work on those moves and try to get them down a lot."
If there is any positive out of Mullens pre-maturely entering the draft, it is that he will save some face for the Big Ten Conference. As hard as it is to believe, Mullens will be the only Big Ten player selected in this year's draft. The conference was very competitive this season even though many "experts" predicted it would be a down year. . The conference spent pretty much the entire season ranked second in conference RPI and placed four teams in the Strength Of Schedule top 20, including No. 1 overall Michigan State. "It is one of the hardest conferences in college basketball as you can tell by when the tournament came around, I think we were second for most teams getting in. There were a lot of good sophomores. I'm glad I could represent the Big Ten," Mullens said.
The league has history (both recent and long term) on its side too. Over the last five years, the Big Ten has sent four teams to the Final Four, tying the Big East for the most teams playing on the final weekend. It's also one of only two conferences (Big East) to advance five different programs to the Final Four this decade. The Big Ten has accumulated a record 40 Final Four appearances, tying the ACC for the national lead. The Midwest's premier college conference always loses (often badly) to the ACC in their annual "challenge" that occurs each year at the start of December. This year however, they lost just 6-5 with two of those losses by a basket or less. On top of all that, the league once again led the nation in attendance for the 33rd consecutive year. So with all this strong tradition, what's with the lack of representation this draft?
Well, most of the talent is very young; all five members of the post-season First Team were sophomores while two more second year players were voted onto the All Conference Second Team, and that doesn't include Purdue super soph Robbie Hummel who battled back injuries all season long.
The 2010 NBA Draft should see more representation from the Big Ten as five players are projected to be taken, including Mullens' former teammate, Evan Turner being a top ten prospect. That number could grow if players like Michigan State's Kalin Lucas (the conference player of the year) or Durrell Summers, or perhaps Mullens' former teammate William Buford decide to leave school early.
But in the 2009 NBA Draft, the conference's theme song could be U2's "One." Since I don't agree with Mullens' decision, I'll just hope he reads these lyrics from that ballad, and contemplate how/why he should have stayed in school. "Well it's too late. Tonight
to drag the past out into the light... One love. One blood. One life. You got to do what you should."