Vucevic’s decision to leave is logical after all


Nobody fantasizes about playing basketball for USC.  They don’t long for the Galen Center, or Kevin O’Neill, or the “Trojan Fever” fanatics or being frontcourt mates with Alex Stepheson.

What college basketball players fantasize about is being selected by one of 30 NBA teams in the annual June draft, which subsequently ushers in multi-million dollar contracts and the potential to give the Tiger Woods treatment to willing parties nightly. That’s the mind set: Getting paid to play basketball trumps being a student-athlete, despite what the NCAA commercials say.

During a Friday afternoon press conference, USC’s Nikola Vucevic echoed such sentiments.

“After consulting with K.O. and my family for a couple weeks, I have decided to skip my senior year and enter the NBA draft,” he said.

So that’s it. Following a season in which the Trojan big man averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per games, he’s jumping on the first train out of town.

And take note: There is no turning back at this point. By hiring the Los Angeles-based Serbian native Rade Filipovich as his agent, Vucevic is headed to the professional ranks one way or the other, whether it’s the NBA, Italy or Spain. Per NCAA rules, he is no longer eligible to return to USC, so grab a Kleenex and wipe away those tears.

“If you do something, you have to go into it, 100 percent,” he said when asked about his decision to hire an agent. “Testing the waters usually doesn’t end that well.”

Doing so, however, caught many by surprise. Most anticipated Vucevic would not sign with an agent, and thus retain his college eligibility before waiting until the May 8 deadline to make a final decision whether to stay or go.

“The decision wasn’t about our team or the university,” said USC coach Kevin O’Neill. “It was about Nick.”

It most definitely was. What Vucevic’s declaration says is that, for his growth as a player, it’d be more beneficial to develop in Europe than under O’Neill’s wing.

“If Vucevic and agent like what they’re hearing, he’ll stay in [the draft] … If not, has a great backup plan in Europe and can try draft again in 2012,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com tweeted Friday night. “Great argument to be made that Vucevic can develop faster, improve stock playing in Europe over USC … [O’Neill] more interested in getting drunk, getting into fights at bar instead of preparing for crucial game.”

Though he made his intentions to play in the NBA rather clear, there is no guarantee Kid Euro won’t be returning to his native Europe instead. Presently, most mock drafts project the 6-foot-10 forward to be a late second round pick, which makes his future even muddier.

By being selected in the latter portion of the draft, Vucevic would not be given a guaranteed contract, and based on his performance in the summer league, could later be relegated to his respective team’s NBA Development League squad.

In short, a draft selection, particularly in the second round, does not necessarily equate to instant NBA success, and as a result, Vucevic might opt for a year or two overseas in order to fine-tune his skills before making the jump.

And there is no doubt playing in Europe would present tougher competition than another year of playing in the Pac-10. Just ask Brandon Jennings.

Jennings, a decorated high school point guard prospect, opted to play for Lottomatica Roma in Italy instead of a season for Lute Olson at the University of Arizona.

Though the future Milwaukee Bucks draft pick didn’t necessarily post the best numbers (5.5 points and 2.2 assists per game) during his year on the other side of the Atlantic, the carryover to the NBA was noticeable, as he averaged 15.5 points per game while being named to the All-Rookie first team in his initial season.

With a potential NBA lockout on the horizon, however, the Europe option gains even more traction.

With a work stoppage threatening to postpone games next season until December or January, it’s possible the normal 82-game slate could be cut in half, and thus encourage players such as Vucevic to play professionally elsewhere.

The goal for most college players is to achieve NBA stardom. So it comes down to this for Vucevic: Which ensures better long-term success, another year at USC under O’Neill or a short stint in Europe?

That’s an easy one, really. Go east, young man.

“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this article email Joey at jrkaufma@usc.edu or visit dailytrojan.com.