Tyrone Garland, Aaron Craft, Khalif Wyatt Shine, But Hold Off on NBA Draft Talk for NCAA Tournament Heroes

Tyrone GarlandFor a good part of Sunday afternoon, Khalif Wyatt was trending hard on Twitter. The senior guard from Temple got shout-outs from a wide range of followers, from Nets guard Joe Johnson to Raiders fullback Marcel Reece. Wyatt scored 31 points against Indiana, and although the Owls lost, he boosted himself from anonymity to a household name among hoops fans.

Yet it did not amount to a hill of beans, as far as his NBA draft status is concerned.

Wyatt, like fellow March Madness heroes Aaron Craft, Tyrone Garland and others, assured that his name will be brought up throughout the late-June monotony of pre-draft analysis. From Mateen Cleaves to Miles Simon to Bryce Drew, more vaunted players than Wyatt have felt the shine of stardom in the tournament before the NBA’s harsh reality set in.

This should not be taken as a knock on college studs like Ohio State’s Craft or one shining moment-ers like Garland, whose “Southwest Philly Floater” helped La Salle survive Sunday night. Despite the presence of pro prospects like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Wyatt was the best player on the court in Dayton, and even the guys in the candy-striped pants knew it. This is merely a warning that success for college players in March can be misleading.

The tourney is about seizing on a scant few opportunities that swing the outcome one way or another. It is about emotion — “madness,” actually — and emotion is best left out of business decisions, like which player an NBA team sees fit to dedicate millions of dollars to over the next four to five years.

Contrary to popular belief, pro scouts do not evaluate everything on size, speed and athleticism and totally overlook the things that happen on the court. If that were the case, Butler golden boy Rotnei Clarke‘s undrafted projection would be no surprise, but bolt-quick 6-foot-4 New Mexico point guard Kendall Williams would be a surefire lottery choice. (Williams, a junior, was ranked even lower than Clarke on some experts’ boards before the Lobos’ loss to Harvard.) Those guys sitting in the stands, wearing track suits and jotting down notes know what they are doing, no matter how many Michael Olowokandis and Yinka Dares you might throw in their faces. They have their big misses, for sure, but scouting for the draft is sort of like batting in the major leagues. Being right three times out of 10 is still pretty good.

Even as his Buckeyes stalk a Final Four bid, Craft is stuck at No. 15 among point guards on ESPN’s draft board, meticulously compiled by Chad Ford. Wyatt is destined for more than “adult league” greatness, as CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb backhandedly complimented him last weekend (see below), but he is still projected to be a second-rounder at best. Garland is nowhere to be found in Ford’s rankings, and the reliable folks over at DraftExpress have not even bothered to put together a profile for the Explorers’ junior guard.

A number of highly touted prospects, such as Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, struggled in the early rounds but are unlikely to have harmed their draft stock greatly because of it, as former NESN.com intern Conrad Kaczmarek noted. Unlike most fans, scouts see a player’s full potential, not just a stunning point total or a miraculous shot. Be assured that while scouts certainly appreciated Wyatt’s offensive performance, they also noticed how he just sort of floated in no-man’s land on defense on the play in which Oladipo hit the back-breaking 3-pointer on Sunday. (Temple coach Fran Dunphy was nice enough to provide a little foreshadowing in a radio appearance last week.)

To be sure, tournament heroes are not banned from making it as professionals. Kemba Walker, J.J. Redick and Andre Miller had wildly successful college careers, then overcame scouts’ reservations to enjoy fairly successful NBA careers. College and pro success are not mutually exclusive. Neither are they as linked as the face-painting, “DE-fense”-chanting fanatics might believe.

Craft, Garland, Wyatt, Brett Comer and any of the other countless tourney heroes could go on to triumphant tenures in the NBA. It is tough to doubt any of them given the way they have stepped up under the pressure of the last week. Let’s just be careful to examine every player’s full body of work before any team goes and scoops them up with a lottery pick earned through a season’s worth of stinking.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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