One weekend truly makes all the difference for Texas basketball.
What looked like an easy top-five pick at this time last week is now a team without a solid place in the national picture — or a solid roster, with more question marks than returners at this point.
Jordan Hamilton will not be back next season, that much we know. He has hired an agent and will be in the NBA draft at the end of June. He will likely go in the mid-first round, with projections ranging from No. 14 overall to the beginning of the second round.
And freshman Cory Joseph, who isn’t even on the board in most mock drafts, is likely to return. He’s nowhere near Hamilton’s level in NBA readiness, although the quick combo guard could certainly develop into a professional talent with a few more years of experience under his belt.
That leaves Tristan Thompson as the big quagmire and the biggest headache for Texas fans and head coach Rick Barnes.
Of course, it’s likely Barnes already knows of Thompson’s decision. And, increasingly, it’s becoming easier for the rest of us to guess: The 6-foot-8-inch forward is probably going to give up his college eligibility and enter this summer’s draft.
He has until May 8 to decide, and until there’s official word from his camp or the school, we won’t know for sure. There’s nothing wrong with leaving, if that is what he chooses, since, like the rest of us, he has a future to consider and a dream to pursue.
But leaving early would be a disservice to Thompson, who stands to gain the most from returning to Texas and using another season to develop his game and dominate other collegiate forwards.
He’s got a huge repertoire of low-post moves that make scouts fawn, and his limitless motor makes old-school NBA execs light-headed with anticipation. He would definitely be a welcome addition to most pro benches — that’s why he’s projected as high as No. 12 overall.
But come back for another year and Thompson is a (nearly) guaranteed lottery pick after the season. Thompson is a shot-blocking machine but too small to play defense against the league’s best power forwards. Some more time in the gym could solve that, as would a better perimeter shot that would allow him to play more time at the three.
Thompson is a physical force in the college ranks, but he shrank from the spotlight in games against the likes of Kansas and North Carolina. Come back to compete against the depleted front courts of the Big 12 next season and Thompson could dispel any lasting suspicions about his toughness.
The Canadian national rebounds extremely well thanks to his lightning-quick vertical, but he wasn’t the most dominant post player in the conference, or even the second most — that would be KU brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris. Marcus, known for his confidence that borders o downright arrogance, once paid Thompson the ultimate compliment by admitting that Thompson would make a great forward “some day.” That’s a testament to the Texas freshman’s potential but also to his offensive rawness.
To put it simply, Thompson should return to college for another season. He is NBA-ready but not ready to dominate the NBA. Hype will continue to build over his physical attributes and high ceiling, but the smartest move would be coming back to Texas and helping the Longhorns compete for a Big 12, and NCAA, title.