The NCAA Tournament can mean more to the participating players than exhilarating wins and crushing defeats.
It can mean money.
Lots and lots of money.
More money than most of us will make in our lifetime.
While NBA scouting is sophisticated enough that no prospect slips completely under the radar, those who perform well in the tournament can quickly improve their position in the draft.
Players know it, too.
At a news conference this week, Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss said, “I’m trying to get paid here soon because I’m tired of doing all this stuff for free. And this is where you make your money, the NCAA Tournament.”
Those doing the drafting love to see how players with the NBA-caliber physical skills do against other top players in the most pressurized situations of their young career.
If players excel, scouts notice.
If they don’t respond, scouts also notice.
Consider the Jazz’s Gordon Hayward, who played at Butler. He led the Bulldogs to the 2010 championship game and was eventually drafted by Utah.
Going into the tournament, Hayward was considered a late first-round pick.
Some questioned his physical strength. Some worried how he would find his shot in the NBA. Others wondered if the level of competition in the Horizon League had prepared him for a jump to the next level.
Hayward answered all those questions during Butler’s magical run in the tournament.
In the opening rounds, he scored 13 points in a 77-59 win over UTEP. Then, his steal in the final seconds preserved a 54-52 victory over Murray State.
Butler advanced to the Sweet 16, where Hayward’s stock continued to rise.
He scored 17 points during a 63-59 victory over Syracuse and its projected lottery pick, Wesley Johnson. Next, he scored with 22 points in a 63-56 win over Kansas State that put the Bulldogs in the Final Four.
“Just great times,” Hayward recalled. “We played and beat two really good teams [in Salt Lake]. Syracuse was probably the most talented team in that tournament. And of course, Kansas State was really good as well. So it was fun. Just a lot of fun.”
Actually, it was more than fun.
It was business, too.
In the eyes of NBA talent scouts, Hayward was rocketing up the list of first-round draft prospects.
“I went back to our people,” one personnel-type said, “and told them, ‘I may be crazy, but I think he’s better than Wesley Johnson.’ ”
You know the rest of the story.
Butler reached the title game, where Hayward’s half-court shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim, and Duke won the national championship.
The Jazz ended up using the No. 9 pick in the draft on Hayward, whose $15 million rookie contract is worth about twice as much as those belonging to players picked in the mid-20s.
Talk about March Madne$$.
NBA • four-point play
Knicks miss Chandler
I picked the Knicks to win the Atlantic Division and threaten Miami in the East. I don’t know if they can beat the Heat, but they don’t have any shot unless Tyson Chandler returns 100 percent from a neck injury. “He takes a lot of pride — kind of like Kevin Garnett — in his defense,” said Utah’s Al Jefferson. “He’s just a very tough, defensive-minded guy.”
Koufos blossoms in Denver
Ex-Jazz first-rounder Kosta Koufos is emerging in Denver. Only 24 but already in his fifth season, he’s the starting center for the streaking Nuggets. Koufos averages 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22.6 minutes — all career highs. “He’s getting better every week. He’s smart and solid,” coach George Karl told the Denver Post. “It’s fun watching him get better every week.”
Nuggets own streak
With the Jazz struggling and college basketball taking center stage in Utah this week, perhaps you didn’t notice the Nuggets won their 14th straight game with a 101-100 victory over Philadelphia. Denver trailed by eight with less than two minutes left. “It was crazy. To be honest, I didn’t think we had any chance of winning,” said Corey Brewer, who scored 29 points.
Corbin: ignore criticism
As the Jazz have struggled, criticism of coach Tyrone Corbin and the players has mounted. According to Randy Foye, Corbin told his the players to ignore it: “He says, ‘I’ll handle it.’ But I really don’t read the newspapers or watch sports.” Why? “When you’re winning,” Foye said, “everybody loves you. When you’re struggling, they try to beat you down. It comes with the territory.”