Here’s where we curb our enthusiasm: For Tech to return fully or even partially intact, four distinguished seniors would have to say, “Yes, we’d prefer to stay in college one more season and keep taking Tech-level classes and not get paid a professional wage so we can try to repeat as conference champs and go further in a tournament where nothing, as we’ve just seen, is guaranteed.” For all four to reach such a decision would be, let us say, unlikely – though not impossible.
But as of today, only one of the four is slotted in NBADraft.net’s 2021 mock draft – Alvarado, projected to be the 51st of 60 draftees. Devoe isn’t listed in the 2022 mock. None of these Jackets is seen as an NBA certainty, though most if not all should play professionally somewhere. The question becomes: Would you rather spend next season in the G League or overseas, or would you prefer another season in the ACC?
One possible mitigating factor: The NCAA is moving, albeit slowly, toward legislation that would pay players for use of their names, images and likenesses. That might be in place as early as next season. It also might not. (The NCAA was supposed to hold a vote in January but postponed it.) Would the prospect of NIL money be enough to persuade 22-year-olds to remain students for a fifth season?
That fifth season surely will look different than the fourth. By then, every adult who wants the vaccine should have gotten it. That would mean no daily/weekly/hourly tests. That would mean playing before bigger crowds. There’s also this: Japan just announced that spectators from other nations will not be allowed at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, which might not happen anyway; Europe, which has seen a slower rollout of vaccines, could be about to close down yet again. Would you be eager to cross an ocean to play professionally if you could have one more season of high-level college ball?
A college player can hedge his bet by declaring himself draft-available and hiring an agent; if the player isn’t drafted, he’ll retain the option to return to school. Also: The ACC just announced transfers between league schools will have immediate eligibility, which could make for real intrigue. Might Wright – just picking a name, though he is from Raleigh – be desirous of spending a few months with Coach K or Ol’ Roy? (Probably not. If you’re going to leave a school that just won the conference title, you’re not apt to enroll elsewhere. You’re going pro.)
Wright will turn 23 in December. Alvarado will turn 23 next month. Asked after Friday’s loss to Loyola Chicago about his plans, Alvarado said: “I don’t have a direct answer, yes or no. But it’s in my mind.” It has to be. He’s an adult. He has a child. Money isn’t an abstract concept.
As tantalizing as the notion of Tech returning everybody is – such an assemblage would be the rough equivalent of Loyola with ACC-type talent – it would take an awful lot for that to happen. The good news: Pastner’s job is secure, and he’s set to welcome his highest-rated Tech recruiting class. (The 247Sports Composite ranks it 15th nationally.)
But still: Imagine those three freshmen with these four seniors, plus Devoe and Khalid Moore and Kyle Sturdivant and Rodney Howard. Preseason top five? Maybe. Preseason No. 1? Possibly.