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Were Cody Zeller and James Michael McAdoo smart to return to school?

Jul 3, 2012, 6:37 PM EDT

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In the five days since Thursday’s NBA Draft, perhaps the biggest talking point has been the fall of Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones.

The consensus seems to be that the two cost themselves a great deal of money by returning to school. Considered by many to be locks for the lottery — if not the top five — after their freshmen campaigns, the two players returned to school and had, frankly, incredibly similar seasons. The result of those seasons combined with injury concerns that leaked out prior to the draft were that Sully fell to the 21st pick and PJ3 dropped all the way to 28th.

(It wasn’t all bad, however. Sullinger landed in Boston, where he’ll get a chance to learn behind a roster full of former all-stars and future hall-of-famers in the same place that made Big Baby a quality NBA player. Jones will be playing in Oklahoma City, which is about as ideal of a landing spot as there is for a first round pick. There is a legitimate argument to make that while they lost out on some first round money, they set themselves up for a bigger second contract.)

The same question can be raised with Harrison Barnes and Terrence Jones. Barnes fell slightly from being the potential No. 1 pick to No. 7, while Jones went from being a late lottery pick to the 18th pick. Returning to school likely cost them some money, as well.

The question that Mike DeCourcy asked today was, given the result of returning to school for Sullinger and Jones, did James Michael McAdoo and Cody Zeller make the correct decision to keep their names out of the 2012 NBA Draft?:

So there’s a natural question about what their experience should teach Zeller and North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo, each of whom was regarded as a lottery pick following his freshman season but chose to stick around college a second year.

The answer: not a thing.

In my opinion, the situation is different for McAdoo and Zeller. McAdoo was projected as a late lottery pick, meaning that with a successful season as a sophomore, he could potentially climb up into the top five. Monetarily speaking it is worth the risk to return to school. A fall to the late first round would not be a major hit financially, while climbing up into the top five could double or triple the money he would have been guaranteed. Beyond that, the fact that McAdoo will have a chance to be UNC’s featured big man after playing behind Tyler Zeller and John Henson should set him up for a breakout season.

Zeller, on the other hand, had a chance to be a top five pick. He could still end up being a top five pick after this season, and based on the way that his workouts were described by Tom Crean — apparently, he’s up to 240 lbs with a vertical of 39″ while benching 185 lbs 20 times — that probably won’t change. And to his credit, Zeller seems to be making a decision based on the fact that he’s not ready to “pay bills and own a house”, which is probably smart given the fact that he’s not yet allowed to legally drink.

But what Zeller needs to be aware of if that teams won’t be as accepting of his flaws after a second year in school. Instead of focusing on what he’s capable of doing, the focus will be on what he’s not able to do.

There is no question that it is a risk, but if it is one that Zeller is willing to take, who are we to argue with him?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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