Now that North Carolina, Duke, Florida State and Maryland have a pretty good idea of what their rosters will look like next year, its entirely possible the edge in the ACC title race rests with C.J. Leslies decision.
The N.C. State forward has already passed the NCAAs deadline for making a decision, and the NBAs deadline of April 29 is rapidly approaching. And with five Kentucky players deciding to turn pro Tuesday night, Leslies chances of slipping into the first round may be slim.
The Wolfpacks recruitment of top prospect Amile Jefferson may depend on Leslies decision, and the uncertainty may already have cost N.C. State junior-college center Andrew Young, who visited the campus Saturday but committed to Texas A&M on Tuesday. (South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who is from Fayetteville, could be another option.)
DeShawn Painters unexpected departure and Jaqawn Raymonds transfer opened up scholarships for Jefferson and Young, but Leslies departure would open up playing time - and like Young, Jefferson has other options, including Duke, so its a buyers market.
With Leslie, N.C. State might be the presumptive ACC favorite, although UNC, with James Michael McAdoo returning to school and Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald returning to health, would have something to say about that.
Without Leslie, the Wolfpack falls into the big pack of contenders that also includes Duke, Florida State and Maryland, all of which have survived their own potential professional departures, with the notable exception of Duke guard Austin Rivers.
Around the ACC, only Dukes pursuit of recruit Tony Parker is also yet to be decided, so theres a lot riding on Leslies decision as far as the landscape of the league next year.
By all indications, Leslie is leaning toward returning for his junior year and has continued to attend spring-semester classes, but his draft stock has improved as several of his peers have declared their intention to return to school, including McAdoo and Dukes Mason Plumlee. Attempts Tuesday to reach Leslies mother, Lisa, were unsuccessful.
At this point, Leslie may be waiting on decisions elsewhere. Any first-round pick who decides to turn pro pushes Leslie further onto the first-round bubble. Tuesday night, all five of Kentuckys potential pros announced they will enter the draft; all five are expected to go in the first round ahead of Leslie.
Still, once a second-round pick in almost every mock draft, Leslie has some first-round momentum. Probasketballdraft.com now projects him as a late first-rounder. DraftExpress.com has Leslie fourth in the second round, a slight improvement from its last projection.
The difference between the first and second rounds of the NBA draft is galactic: First-round picks receive guaranteed contracts worth millions, while teams arent even required to offer second-round picks a contract.
Last years 30th pick, Jimmy Butler, signed for $2.1 million over two years with team options for two more. Last years 32nd pick, Justin Harper, signed for $1.2 million over two years. Two spots of separation were worth $900,000, possibly far more.
Leslie has the NBAs evaluation of his draft status in hand. If hes a guaranteed first-rounder, theres no reason to walk away from millions, but if there is any chance hes headed for second-round limbo, hed without question be best served returning to school.
At this point, it still looks like going pro would be a big gamble for Leslie, particularly given the improvement he showed as a sophomore. If he continues at that pace, hell be a lottery pick this time next year. A big if to be sure, but no bigger than any of the ifs Leslie faces now.
DeCock: (919) 829-8947, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or firstname.lastname@example.org