DESTIN, Fla. — The rest of the University of Alabama fan base may not have enjoyed sweating out Braxton Key’s decision on whether or not to remain in this summer’s NBA draft. Key waited until May 23, just one day before the deadline to withdraw his name from the draft, to announce that he would return to UA for his sophomore year.
His head coach didn’t seem to share the same consternation about waiting out a decision.
“He went through the process, the process played out basically how I thought it was going to play out,” Avery Johnson said on Wednesday. “But at the same time, he had to make the decision that he wanted to put two feet back in, return to school and be a major part of our team.”
Key’s return punches up the potential for Alabama in 2017-18. As a freshman he led the team with 12 points per game and was second with 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
That was good enough to convince Key he should consider a professional career. But his experience between entering the draft on April 17 and withdrawing his name showed him there was more work to be done.
Key was not among 67 players who attended the NBA draft upon the invitation of the league. That didn’t bode well for his chances of being selected in the draft’s 60 picks. He had some workouts with NBA teams but never signed with an agent. He told Johnson he would return to Alabama about a week before making his decision public.
That’s how the process should play out, Johnson said.
“I think the process is solid,” he said. “Players want to get a grade. You’re able to contact what’s called the Undergraduate Advisory Council. They’ll give you a grade on whether a player is going to get drafted or not drafted.
“The kid still decides independent of what the grade is, especially if it’s a non-drafted status, to be able to declare for the draft, which means he’s probably not going to get invited to Chicago or if he does get invited to Chicago, then there’s still some time after that to go and work out for some teams. They get an idea of what other general managers are going to say about them, and then they can make a better informed decision about whether to stay in the draft or not.
Johnson and Key were in “constant contact” throughout the process, the head coach said. Johnson was pleased with the outcome as well as the process. The NBA’s entry process for underclassmen has drawn some skepticism from college coaches in recent years, but Johnson was pleased with it.
The only change he would make would be to make the deadline for players to withdraw from the draft a bit sooner. The deadline had previously been in mid-April, which abutted against the Final Four. It was moved in 2016.
“May 24, I wish that particular drop-dead date when a kid has to withdraw from the draft, I wish we could move it back to May 17, or immediately after Chicago, pre-draft camps, a day or two after that,” Johnson said. “But I think overall it’s a solid process.”
Players are also now permitted to enter the draft multiple times during their college career as long as they don’t hire an agent. Key could conceivably put his name in the draft again in 2018, then withdraw it again and return for his junior season.
Key’s first chance to test the waters went well enough, for both him and his coach.
“He went through the process, the process played out, he’s back on campus ready to have more of a leadership role and we’re excited to have him back,” Johnson said. “He makes us a much better basketball team.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.