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May 15, 2007

Collison bucks trend to return to school

UCLA's Darren Collison has more reason to leave college behind than many of the underclassmen heading to the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando that begins May 29.

After all, Collison was the point guard on a Bruins team that made the Final Four this past season. In his first year as a starter, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound sophomore led the Pac-10 with 2.2 steals a game and finished second with 5.6 assists a game. He also shot 44 percent (51-of-114) from 3-point range, tops among all players in the league that averaged at least one 3-pointer a game.

By the end of the NCAA Tournament, Collison's stock was soaring. But, the rising star said he never gave much thought to leaving college.

That's far from the norm these days. The list of early entrees for the 2007 NBA draft included 58 American players. Twenty-one are from outside the major conferences, including some from way outside. There's a point guard from Arkansas Tech and a big man from Arkansas State. Texas A&M's university system has three representatives, only one of whom is from the main campus in College Station.

It seems like just about any college player with the slightest NBA potential is making the leap. Of course, most say they are just testing the draft waters. The majority of them haven't signed with agents and as long as that remains the case they can pull out of the draft up until the June 18 deadline.

Why not take a shot with a deal like that? What's the risk?

Collison believes he has an answer.

"I still haven't reached my goal of winning a national championship," Collison told Rivals.com. "I thought I could have done better. I could have been a better leader. Until we get a championship I haven't done my job as a point guard."

Collison knows he'll have a solid chance of doing that next season. The Bruins are ranked third in the Rivals.com top 25 preseason poll despite losing 2006-07 Pac-10 Player of the Year Arron Afflalo. The junior shooting guard has signed with an agent.

Two other starters, versatile wing Josh Shipp (13.3 ppg) and leading rebounder Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (7.4 rpg), return, and they add Kevin Love, the top-ranked center in the class of 2007. A bruising big man, Love (6-9, 240) could give the Bruins the inside force they've lacked during their runs to back-to-back Final Fours.

"We have a lot of good players coming back who are going to get better individually and a great recruiting class," Collison said. "I think we will be a much better team. That made my decision easy. It's a win-win situation for me."

Staying put
Here's a list of 10 other players coming off strong seasons who chose not to test the draft waters .
D.J. Augustin, Texas14.4
Chase Budinger, Arizona15.6
Mario Chalmers, Kansas12.2
Brandon Costner, N.C. State16.8
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina18.4
Chris Lofton, Tennesse20.4
Richard Hendrix, Alabama14.6
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State18.1
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova14.8
D.J. White, Indiana13.8
Afflalo and former UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar, whom the Lakers took with the 26th pick of the 2006 NBA draft, both offered the same advice to their former teammate.

"They told me to do what is best for me," Collison said.

For Collison that means another summer full of grueling drills and pickup games instead of traveling around the country to work out for NBA teams. He'll be taking classes and playing pickup games alongside Afflalo, Farmar and plenty of other NBA players.

It all starts in two weeks, when Collison expects to have recovered from a slight tear in his shoulder. He is looking to add 10 pounds of muscle by the start of the 2007-08 season, so a strict diet and weight-training program will be part of his routine, too.

"The best time to get better is the offseason," Collison said. "I'm going to work on my game, my strength and my conditioning. I want to watch a lot of tapes. I'm going to organize my eating habits and weight lifting. I'm focused on continuing to win. I'm not worried too much about the NBA. I can't get caught up in that."

UCLA fans shouldn't get too caught up in worrying about who will be their next point guard anytime soon either. Regardless of how good a junior year Collison has, he could choose to complete all four years of his eligibility.

"There's definitely a chance I could come back for my senior year," he said. "I told people I want to win a championship, and I'm sticking to it."

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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