Where does Noah stack up? 

Watching the NCAA championship game on Monday between Florida and Ohio State, I couldn’t help thinking about Scotty Thurman. Remember him?

Thurman was the Arkansas swingman who hit a big 3-pointer to help the Razorbacks win the 1994 national championship. He was a sophomore and at the time was considered a certain lottery selection for that summer’s draft.

(Getty images)
Arkansas Razorbacks forward Scotty Thurman pulls up for the jumper (1993).

Thurman decided to stay at Arkansas for his junior season, which was widely praised as admirable. But Thurman’s game was exposed his junior season and, when he entered the draft in 1995, he went unselected.

I’m wondering if Florida’s Joakim Noah isn’t this year’s Thurman. Noah is going to be drafted, of course, but there is no doubt he will not be picked as high as he would have been had he declared for the draft after last season.

There is always criticism of collegiate players who "come out too soon," players who enter the draft and wind up in the NBA despite not being ready. It is often said afterward that these guys should have "stayed in school" and put the NBA on hold.

There is an assumption that these players made the wrong decision in choosing the NBA over college. The argument goes that the player should have remained on campus, improved his game and then entered the league when he was more pro-ready.

Ridiculous.

If a collegiate player rightfully believes that he’ll be an NBA lottery pick — or even a first-round pick — why would he stay in school? There are no guarantees that lottery picks this season will be lottery picks next season, or first-round picks in 2006 will be first-round picks in 2007.

Here’s an unsettling truism for college hoops players: The less pro scouts see of them the better. It is more advantageous for a college player to tease pro scouts with a few good games over the course of a year or two than to risk unveiling deficiencies over a 120-game, four-year college career.

Take Warriors center Patrick O’Bryant, for example. O’Bryant played just two seasons at Bradley, and in his final game had 28 points against Pitt. The performance was good enough to elevate O’Bryant into the lottery.

O’Bryant spent most of this year playing for Bakersfield in the D-League. Terrible choice to come out, right?

Wrong. Great decision.

O’Bryant, whose stock likely would have dropped this season, earned a two-year guaranteed contract worth almost $3 million and likely will earn a third season at $1.8 mil. Had he stayed in school, who knows what would have happened? The guess here is he never would have done any better than No. 11.

This brings us to Noah, who looked a lot better during last season’s championship run than this year’s. Had he entered the draft in 2006, Noah likely would have been a top-three selection. In 2007? He’ll take sneaking into the lottery.

Another case of how staying in schoolcan hold you back.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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