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Elite players returning to school and their impact on recruiting

Jun 13, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT

Oklahoma St Players Return Basketball AP

While much is made of how schools react to an unexpected departure to the professional ranks, just as important is how programs adjust when players decide to return to for another season. The decision can lead to a juggling act in some cases, with programs looking to keep as much talent as possible without surpassing the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit. How that affects the newcomers expected to join the program ultimately boils down to whether or not the program has available scholarships.

That was certainly the case for Baylor, which retained the services of both Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. With those two returning to Waco minutes would be difficult to come by for a newcomer such as Dominic Woodson. As a result there was a parting of ways, with Woodson ultimately landing at Memphis where there’s a better opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Another Big 12 school that received positive news on the NBA Draft front is Oklahoma State, which will welcome back guards Markel Brown and Marcus Smart and forward Le’Bryan Nash. While Smart, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and one of the nation’s best lead guards, is the headliner of the three each has important roles to play for a program looking to ascend to the top of a conference that has been dominated by Kansas over the years.

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The decisions, especially Smart’s, to return to Stillwater may have surprised outsiders but they didn’t catch Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford off-guard.

“I think they all wanted to come back, but also they had an obligation to see where they were at as well,” Ford said of his three players in a phone interview with NBCSports.com. “We never discussed it with them [during the season] and we never let it become as distraction. Even as a coaching staff we didn’t talk about it a whole lot.”

Once the season was completed Ford discussed the possibilities with each player, and according to Ford his program prefers to go by the NBA’s withdrawal deadline when it comes to the decision-making process.

“I think the NBA deadline probably makes the most sense. I don’t know how much you gain with the NCAA deadline,” said Ford. “I know for us, we studied it and came to the conclusion that the NBA deadline is what we were looking at.”

To that point, the recruiting process when it comes to the possibility of losing a player (or players) to the professional ranks begins well before April. Programs can ill afford to not consider all possibilities during the summer/fall before the season begins, because if they do and a player does leave the pickings are incredibly slim in the spring from a recruiting standpoint.

Oklahoma State has five signees in its 2013 class, one of which being point guard Stevie Clark. But even with Smart being a projected lottery pick as the season progressed, Oklahoma State didn’t use the possibility of him leaving (and thereby opening up minutes) as a selling point.

“You can discuss the possible scenarios that happen, but for us in recruiting we don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on that,” Ford noted. “If we’re recruiting somebody to come play for us, we want them to come in and make an impact whether somebody’s leaving or not. That’s not something we’re trying to sell to recruits, that ‘somebody may leave so you may be able to step in.'”

In addition to the question of what a player with the NBA Draft decision in front of them will do, there’s also the question of whether or not that prospective member of the program will be on board with the idea of competing with an incumbent for minutes. For some recruits this can be an issue, with the desire for immediate playing time having a significant impact on their decision. But for others, the opportunity to not only compete for minutes but also play with other talented players is a plus.

That’s all part of the recruiting process, and accurately gauging a recruit’s thinking in situations such as this one is why programs can’t afford to wait until the spring to make moves.

The position that Oklahoma State found itself in at the end of April is an ideal one. Their three best players all decided to return for another season, but even if that didn’t turn out to be the case the Cowboys had done enough on the recruiting trail to ensure that they had enough depth entering the 2013-14 season.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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