They set us up so well last April. Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah had it all planned out back that April night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center where the crowd celebrating Florida’s first NCAA basketball championship in school history nervously waited the answer. Were they going to the NBA or sticking around for one more year in a Gator uniform?
Horford, Brewer and Noah teased the crowd and then acted out a skit they had practiced for a couple of days. Just when they had everyone in the O-Dome convinced they were going to bolt for the NBA, Noah grabbed the microphone and shouted “We’re back!” and with that announcement pandemonium broke loose in the area and throughout Gator Nation.
The drama won’t be quite the same Saturday when the Gators celebrate another championship. This one’s in The Swamp as Gator Nation gathers to celebrate the national championship Florida won in football with a smashing 41-14 win over heavily favored Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona. It’s likely that Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler and several other NFL Draft-eligible underclassmen will announce their intentions at the big party but it won’t be quite the same as it was last April.
The NFL Draft and the NBA Draft are as different as night and day. The NFL Draft goes seven rounds and it’s not uncommon for late round draftees and free agents to make a roster. In the NBA Draft, the odds are stacked against anyone that doesn’t go in the first 40 picks.
“You’re a late second round draft choice in the NBA chances are you’re not making a team,” said Florida basketball Coach Billy Donovan Thursday. “They have football guys drafted in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds making teams.”
Everybody expects Nelson, Florida’s first team All-America free safety, to announce that he’s going to the NFL. He’s almost guaranteed to be one of the first 15 players taken in the draft which means instant millionaire status and the ability to take care of his siblings now that his mom has passed away.
The issues are different for the other underclassmen that are considering passing on another year of college football for the NFL. It’s a mixed bag for Siler, who made third team All-America at middle linebacker. Some analysts him a second rounder, but others, such as Mel Kiper, think the Orlando junior would be wise to spend one more year in school.
Reports were out Friday that junior defensive end Jarvis Moss is certain to leave school. Kiper has him a late first rounder or early second rounder. Cornerback Ryan Smith, who took advantage of a recently rescinded NCAA rule to transfer to Florida from Utah, is said to be leaning heavily toward going. He’s got his college degree, second team All-America status and a championship ring. He’s also only 165 pounds and strength is an issue. Most scouts would like to see him play a season at 175-180 pounds but nobody questions that he can cover. Smith intercepted eight passes this season. At 165 pounds, he would likely be a second day pick in the draft.
Third-year sophomore defensive end Derrick Harvey is rising on every draft chart after his scintillating performance Monday when he destroyed Ohio State right tackle Kirk Barton with three sacks good for 31 yards in losses and a recovered fumble. Harvey has only one year as a starter under his belt and scouts would like to see him play one more year and put on another 10-12 pounds on his 6-5, 255-pound frame.
Fourth-year junior wide receiver Bubba Caldwell announced Friday that he’ll be back. He has the benefit of an older brother (Reche Caldwell, New England Patriots) giving advice to stay another year. With one more year, Caldwell could probably move up to first round status. If he were to leave this year, chances are he would be a third rounder.
Brewer, Horford and Noah went through this decision making process last year. Noah would have been the first player taken in the NBA Draft and Horford would have been top five. Brewer was likely to be selected in the top 15 picks. They would have been instant millionaires if they had chosen to go but the money was never an issue with them.
“It wasn’t about the money with me and it shouldn’t be about the money,” said Brewer. “It should be about being happy and will you love what you’re doing next year.”
Horford says he has no regrets that he chose to come back and says he would advise any of Florida’s football players contemplating the move to the play for pay ranks to do what makes them happy.
“It’s more about being happy and if you’re happy in the situation you’re in and you like the people around you then I recommend you to stay,” said the 6-10 power forward. “This is a great place to be and it’s fun to be in school, but if you feel that there’s a need for you to leave, then you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Noah said he’s happy with the choice he made. He wanted to come back to school to play another year with his friends, try to win another championship and improve his game so he can be an impact player from day one when he does go pro.
“Everybody has a different path and everybody has a different journey,” said the 6-11 junior. “For me personally, I don’t regret coming back to school at all but if you feel you need to take care of your family or that it’s the right time for you and you don’t feel like you have anything else to accomplish in college, then it’s time to move on. It depends on everybody’s situation. Just do what’s best for you.”
Donovan, who has seen several players leave early in their Florida careers for the NBA, says the most important element in the decision making process for Florida’s football underclassmen should be “get the correct advice from the right people.”
The coach understands that finances might play a big role in the decisions of the football players, but he thinks that money alone is not a good reason to leave early.
“Everybody is in a different financial situation and I’m not trying to diminish the importance of people having to pay bills or people having medical care or different issues there,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is you want to put yourself in a position where you can have a long career and obviously in the NFL injuries play a major role in a guy’s longevity playing the game. Football is a lot different than basketball because sometimes you have to strike while the iron’s hot a little bit because you don’t know how long you’re going to be able to stay healthy in a contact sport like that.
“They have to do what’s best for themselves and their families, but make the decision that’s best for you not because of monetary reasons but for your happiness and what you’re going to enjoy doing.”
Brewer offered another piece of advice.
“I would say do what you feel and what’s in your heart,” he said. “That’s the only way you can make a decision. That’s what I did. You have to do what’s best for you. I felt what’s best for me was staying. You have to go with your heart.”
And sometime today, during the celebration at The Swamp, we’ll get a clear picture of what’s in the hearts of underclassmen like Nelson, Moss, Siler, Smith and Harvey.