I have been planning to write this post ever since news broke that Austin Daye was declaring for the NBA draft. I sat down on numerous occasions and prepared to write about what the exact implications for Gonzaga would be because of his decision. However, everytime I sat down to write, I struggled to figure out how to convey exactly what kind of ramifications his decision will have not only on next season, but for the future of this program.
Losing Austin to the NBA would obviously have a huge impact on the shape and success of next season. With the graduation of Micah Downs, Jeremy Pargo, and Josh Heytvelt, I assumed that the offense would revolve around Matt Bouldin and Austin Daye next season. While Matt is a very smart and talented player, he does not have the mentality or ability to be the dominant offensive option for Gonzaga. On the other hand, Austin has that exact mentality, and has the ability to take over a game on the offensive end with his vast array of post moves and dribble drives. Having Austin next year would certainly make it easier on Demetri Goodson, as it will take some time for him to fully understand and be comfortable running the complex flex offense Mark Few runs. Having a go to option like Austin would give Meech an outlet when he is struggling, and simply allow the offense to be more successful.
If Austin returns, you better believe that he will be the focal point of the offense, and also likely one of the captains and leaders for the team. Losing Austin would force a guy like Elias Harris or Bol Kong into minutes that they might not be prepared to handle. It would be a huge luxury for the coaching staff to ease the freshman into the rotation rather then giving them heavy minutes right away. However, if Austin leaves, Gonzaga would not only lose their primary offensive option, but they will also lose the luxury of developing the incoming freshman at the pace they want to.
The one area where I think the decision of Austin is even more important is in the future of recruiting. Whether you like to believe it or not, the 2007 recruiting class elevated Gonzaga to elite status in the basketball world. The class of Daye, Gray, and Sacre proved that Gonzaga not only could compete on the court against the best, but also could recruit and sign the top talent in the country. The epitome of this was demonstrated by Austin Daye. Austin was the first 5 star to ever commit to Gonzaga out of high school, and was one of the top recruits in the entire country. For Gonzaga to be able to recruit at this level again, a player like Austin Daye must be successful during his time in Spokane. If Austin comes back next year and puts together a dominant season, and elevated himself to a top 10 pick, it will have an impact on the next 5-10 years of Gonzaga recruiting. If Austin is successful, Mark Few and the coaching staff can go in to the living room of a 5 star recruit and say, "even though we might play in a mid-major conference, if you come to Gonzaga you will fulfill your potential and play in the NBA". However, if Austin goes pro after this year, it's going to be difficult for the coaching staff to sell Gonzaga to a top 25 recruit.
When Austin first declared for the draft, I was utterly convinced that he would return. However, the more I think about it, the less surprised I would be if he was gone. The main reason for this is that the quality of the 2010 draft is significantly higher then the 2009 draft. The reason for this is the amount of talent that is returning to school, combined with some very good high school recruits, who will only be playing college basketball for one year. If Austin goes pro this year, he is likely to get picked at some point late in the first round. While he can certainly improve on that position with a great junior year, I'm not entirely convinced that he will be able to sneak into the lottery. Think about these potential names at the top of the draft in 2010: John Wall, Willie Warren, DaMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Ed Davis, Cole Aldrich, Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Monroe. Even with a terrific season next year, can Austin pass any of these guys in the draft order. With great workouts, Austin actually has a better chance at being a lottery pick this draft then he would in 2010.
No matter what, it should be an interesting draft process to follow. The return of Austin would have a huge impact on this program, and really vault the Zags into a Sweet 16 caliber team.