When asked in May why he made the decision to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, Vander Blue confidently told the Journal-Sentinel’s Charles Gardner that he “[knew] how this process works” and that he was just “trying to follow the footsteps of Jimmy [Butler]” and the rest of the Marquette basketball alumni who had moved on to the NBA. Blue told Gardner “[t]eams are looking for guys that come from Marquette,” but Thursday night’s NBA draft results proved Blue wasn’t ready. And this decision was the wrong one.
Sixty players heard their names called in Brooklyn, and not one of them was Blue. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, who made it known early in the process he would transition to point guard presumably to cover up his outside shooting deficiencies, failed to draw the attention of the 12 teams he individually worked out for — or the other 18 squads — enough to warrant a draft selection, and the only person to blame for that is himself.
Some will say Blue’s decision was his to make, and that no one’s input but his own should have mattered when the final decision to enter the draft was made. And in many of life’s decisions for a 20-year-old kid, that’s the case: Signing up for a second credit card or heading out to the bars the night before an important test. The examples are endless, and in almost all of those the consequences are minor — let kids be kids, the dust will settle and life goes on.
But the decision Blue made two months ago was not a minor one. Millions of dollars were at stake when Blue said he listed the pros and cons of deciding to end his collegiate career and pursue his NBA dream. The NY Daily News wrote in March on a study that showed there were nine million households in the United States with a net worth of at least $1 million, 2.8 percent of the national population (313.9 million Americans). Last year’s no. 30 pick in the NBA draft, Golden State’s Festus Ezeli, received two years of guaranteed money totaling $2.087 million. Two years of team options and a qualifying offer in Year 5 could push his total earnings to $8.22 million, and that’s the LOWEST-paid first rounder.
Moving past the logistics of taxes and net worth and whether the no. 30 pick is actually a “millionaire,” guaranteed money is guaranteed money. Draft hopefuls say their goal is to get to the NBA, but the brass tacks of it all is that the real goal is earning a first-round selection. As it stands for Blue, that wasn’t going to happen unless he exploded at the combine –he more or less did — and dominated individual workouts and interviews.
A source told Paint Touches in April that Blue was considering entering the draft, full-well knowing he was likely going to be a second-round pick or go undrafted entirely. When the Journal-Sentinel’s Michael Hunt spoke with Buzz Williams days after Blue’s decision, Williams said he “didn’t expect it at all” and that Blue’s “leaving was unexpected.” Williams, like every collegiate coach, wants what’s best for his players and wouldn’t dare steer any of them the wrong way.
If Williams believed in his heart that Blue was ready, there would have been no reason for him to make the comments he did. If he believed Blue was ready, Blue leaving wouldn’t have been so unexpected to him. And considering Williams knows Blue’s game, his strengths and weaknesses and his mental make-up better than anyone, comments like the ones he made to Hunt should have been a gigantic red flag.
Remember, too, that Williams was privy to the information Blue received from the Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a board that lets prospects know their projected stock for the upcoming draft. Even if Williams didn’t believe Blue was ready, had the board told Blue and Williams he was, the adjective “unexpected” wouldn’t have been the word Williams used.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Blue made, however, was seeking out the advice of fellow friends and Marquette alumni now in the NBA. Blue has close relationships with Jimmy Butler and Madison native Wesley Matthews, who Blue admits to seeking out advice from while making his decision.
There’s nothing like finding comfort in the guidance of friends, but stop and consider how well Matthews, Butler, even Dwyane Wade understood what Blue was asking. Through the course of an NBA season, how many times did those players have the chance to really watch Blue play? Sure, they may have seen the headlines he was making all season, probably caught a handful of highlights on SportsCenter and, in some instances, even caught a game in person.
But with all due respect to those players, did they really know if Blue was ready for the NBA? Had they studied the other point guards in this specific draft class to know whether Blue had the chance to hear his name called? An educated guess says they saw how badly Blue wanted out — Hunt wrote that Blue apparently “lost interest in going to class and decided to get a job” — to pursue his dream and told him to go for it. After all, they had been around the block and through the process of the NBA draft; perhaps they thought Blue was ready for it. More likely, they wanted to do what good friends do: give motivation and two thumbs up. For that, they did right by Blue.
Lastly, as Blue went through the process the reality had set in that he was no longer a first-round candidate. Things could have changed if one team felt he was its guy — Lazar Hayward will always be proof of that — but it’s almost guaranteed Blue would have heard his name in the second round, if at all. Blue knew this was the case, but he seems to have his back-up plan by using Matthews — who went undrafted in 2009 and is now playing out a five-year, $34 million deal — as an example of someone who can make it after going undrafted.
But, again, the reality is for every Wesley Matthews there are 10, 20, maybe 30 Dominic James’s every year who don’t hear their names called on draft night and never sniff the NBA again. Tonight Phil Pressey and Myck Kabongo are feeling the same way. It makes all the sense in the world for him to use Matthews’ incredible story as motivation now, but if it was a determining factor in why he left Marquette, that presents a serious problem and lack of clear-thinking.
This is hardly a death sentence for Blue, though. There are routes for him to take that lead back to the NBA, at the very least a D-League career that pays well for a 21-year-old who hasn’t yet graduated college. Even an overseas career is nothing to scoff at, but Blue’s dream — the same dream all college basketball players have — of being drafted has disappeared.
And this piece is not being written to say Blue should have returned because it would have helped Marquette. Players come and go every year, and Buzz Williams, better than most coaches, deals well with change and turnover. This is about Blue needing to come back for his own good, because the best path to his desired career and financial gain lay in one final season in Milwaukee. He no longer has that option, and the road to the NBA just got a lot tougher. Going with your gut feeling is one thing, but not heeding advice from those who know better than you when millions of dollars and your future are on the line is another.