By JOEDY McCREARY, Associated Press
Testing the NBA waters seemingly has become a thing of the past for college players. These days, they're likely either in or out.
The reason: Players have less time to make a decision.
A new NCAA rule says players who entered the NBA draft early but want to return to school only have until next week to withdraw. That April 10 deadline is about a month earlier than before and 19 days before the NBA requires players to say they're entering early.
Not surprisingly, the NCAA and NBA are not on the same page.
The NCAA says the change keeps players focused on academics and gives coaches a measure of certainty for their rosters as they prepare for the next year.
NBA Commissioner David Stern isn't buying it.
His league says underclassmen have until April 29 to enter the draft and may withdraw from it by June 18 — more than two months later than the NCAA allows.
"I believe it makes it harder for the player, but that's a can that I don't want to open up other than to say that we would like to make it as easy for the players as possible," Stern said. "And if the NCAA would spend a little less time talking about whether players should stay in school for one year or two years and enforce their rules equally so that hockey players can talk to agents but basketball players can't?
"I think, to me, the most important thing is to get kids in college the most informed advice they can get without losing their eligibility," Stern added. "That's what they should be focusing on, and hopefully they'll get around to it because it seems fair and just."
Villanova coach Jay Wright says he's taking a wait-and-see approach this first year, pointing to former guard Kyle Lowry as an example of someone who benefited from the old system.
Lowry entered the 2006 draft pool early but didn't immediately hire an agent, didn't decide to stay in until nearly the last minute — and wound up being picked in the first round by Memphis.
"He was able to go through workouts, and by the end of the workouts, we were able to see he was going to be a first-round pick," Wright said. "Now, you've kind of just got to make your decision. You've got to base it based on what agents tell you and what kind of information we can get. But you don't really get to work yourself into a spot in the workouts. It's different. I don't know yet.
"I'm going to reserve judgment and see how it goes this year."
The rule, adopted last April and put into effect Aug. 1, is crafted so the deadline falls on the day before the start of the spring signing period. In theory, that gives coaches who lose a player a chance to find a quality replacement.
In reality, many recruits talented enough to replace them already have settled on their schools by then. Only seven of the top 50 players rated by Rivals.com for 2012 have yet to sign their letters of intent.
The rule's impact might be strongest on the borderline players who in previous years could benefit from feedback from NBA teams before making decisions.
The past two years, the NCAA allowed early entrants until the second week in May to decide to return to school. That still gave them some time to explore their options: They could work out for pro teams, find out where they must improve and then come back to college.
Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall says that's something he might have tried this spring, after a disappointing junior year in which he averaged 11.5 points but missed 11 games with a groin and abdominal injury while his team struggled. Because the rule change essentially removes that option, he says he's definitely returning to the Panthers next year.
"Since the time period has been shortened, I'm not able to get the evaluation to see what I could possibly work on," Woodall said. "Especially playing in a tournament like (the CBI) because it ends so late and guys in the Final Four, they probably only got a couple days now. It's tough. You've just got to know if you're going or not now."
For those determined to enter the draft, the new rule isn't that big of a deal, Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
"I think for people coming out early, I mean, if you're not sure where you're going to go, why are you coming out?" Drew said. "Our philosophy is, when we know you're going to be a first-rounder and you have an idea where you're going to go, that's much different than somebody hoping to be a first-round pick."
North Carolina's Kendall Marshall is pegged as the top point guard in the draft. His father, Dennis Marshall, said his son knew he had to be "100 percent sure" of his choice.
"If you want to go to the NBA, I think you have to know that and have to be confident in that," Dennis Marshall said. "I don't like the idea of 'testing the waters' or guys taking a month to figure it out. I think it's something if you're going to do it, you have to know. You have to be confident, believe you can be good enough and handle it mentally."
And there's possible workaround for the undecided: There's nothing to stop someone from saying next week that he's coming back to school — and then going pro two weeks later.
That's one reason Kentucky coach John Calipari — who won his first national championship with a roster full of early-entry candidates — says he's only paying attention to one of the deadlines.
"We're not going to worry about the (NCAA) date. Our guys will tell me when they want to tell me," Calipari said. "They have until ... whenever the date is, to make a decision by the NBA standards. That's the only one we're going to think about.
"So if they want to wait to make a decision by the 27th when they have to by the NBA, that's when they'll make it. We're not even — I don't even know the other date, nor do I care."
AP Basketball Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Dan Gelston in Philadelphia and Stephen Hawkins in Waco, Texas; and AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky.; Bob Baum in Phoenix and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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