Twelve Arizona basketball players have declared for the NBA draft before their senior season, including forward Grant Jerrett, who is leaving the Wildcats after his freshman year.
Until proven otherwise, Jerrett is the fourth delusional player of this group, leaving before he is ready for the tremendous jump.
The previous three — Coniel Norman, Michael Wright and Marcus Williams — never made an impression in the NBA. Their combined career games in the NBA? Only 112. Norman played in 99 games over three seasons, Williams only 13 in two seasons and Wright never played in an NBA game after his second-round selection by the Knicks in the 2001 draft.
Refining their skills at Arizona for another year or two would have favorably impacted their potential NBA careers. The other eight who left early went on to sustained NBA careers — Eric Money, Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala, Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger.
Norman, who left after his sophomore season in 1974, never became the scorer in the NBA that he was with the Wildcats, averaging 24 points a game. Philadelphia drafted him in the third round. The NBA draft now has only two rounds.
After his NBA pursuits failed, Norman entered the Army and moved overseas. When he returned to the United States, he became separated from his family in Detroit and his life unraveled in the Los Angeles area.
“I wouldn’t say that I made a mistake (declaring hardship after his sophomore season),” Norman told me in a 2010 interview for TucsonCitizen.com. “At that time, I thought it was the best thing for me to do.”
Norman, who was feared dead by some, surfaced in 2010 and has worked to get his life together after being reunited with family in Detroit. He told me it was not a mistake leaving the UA early, but he spoke differently in a 1977 interview with the Washington Post.
“I don’t know if I’d do it again (leave college early),” Norman told the Post. “I was tired of getting my arms hacked away in the WAC. That’s not good for a jump shooter. But I wish I had someone who could have told me what it was going to be like up here (in the NBA). I was not ready for how physical it is. That’s not my game.”
Wright, undersized as a 6-foot-7 power forward without wing skills, left Arizona after his junior season. He could have gained more strength with another year in Tucson and elevated his draft status as a senior.
After his preseason release by the Knicks as a rookie, Wright departed to Europe, where he has played his entire 11-year professional career. He has played most of his career in Turkey, where he goes by the name of Ali Karadeniz.
Williams, a 6-7 wing player who left after his sophomore season in 2007, failed in two different tries with Spurs and played only 10 games with the Clippers in 2007-08. Williams made the surprising move to the NBA despite shooting only 28.8 percent from three-point range in his sophomore season. He averaged 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 assists in his UA career — hardly the numbers of a surefire NBA prospect.
Williams made headlines this year, not because he averaged 30.9 points a game for Shanxi of the Chinese Basketball Association, but because he was busted for marijuana use. The Chinese pro league banned him for six months for testing positive for pot.
He has also played in the NBA’s Developmental League and Puerto Rico. His future is uncertain even in China.
Think he made a mistake by leaving Arizona too early?
Jerrett has a worse fate ahead of him, judging from how he impacted Arizona and college basketball in general compared to Norman, Wright and Williams.
A bench player, Jerrett averaged only 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Jerrett, 6-10, became the tallest Arizona player to lead the Wildcats in three-point shooting (40.5 percent, making 32 of 79 shots). He has a shooting touch despite his frame and long arms (7-foot-2 wing span) but he is a lean 235 pounds.
Jerrett made 32 of his 63 field goals from three-point range. He never showed the ability to take an opponent to the basket off the dribble. He was a defensive and rebounding liability against stronger players who could bang their body for positioning.
He needed at least one more season at Arizona to prepare himself for the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule. Practicing daily against Brandon Ashley and likely one-year-and-done forward Aaron Gordon (officially signed to a national letter of intent Wednesday) would have greatly enhanced Jerrett’s ability.
Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com reported that Jerrett is likely to sign with agent Brian Dyke of Shibumi Sports. Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com reported that Dyke is the husband of Cynthia Cooper, who is the sister of Eric Cooper Sr., who was Jerrett’s high school school at La Verne (Calif.) Lutheran. Eric Cooper Jr., re-classified as a Class of 2014 recruit, decommitted from Arizona this week.
“That circle could make you wonder about what kind of advice Jerrett was getting,” Gimino writes.
The best advice could come from Norman, Wright and Williams. When each of them declared for the NBA, they had delusions of grandeur. They had the pie-in-the-sky look.
The NBA looked the other way.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner