FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas coach John Pelphrey is well aware of the criticism the Southeastern Conference received last season.
Soft nonconference schedules were ridiculed around the nation. Scores of stumbles on the court added to the dismay. By the time the NCAA Tournament field was announced, only three teams took part and one of them — Mississippi State — had to win the SEC Tournament to get in.
But Pelphrey said last week he doesn’t believe the struggles will be a recurring trend. Especially after watching so many of the league’s best players turn down the chance to play professional basketball this spring.
“With all these guys coming back you’ve got to believe it’s going to be, potentially, the No. 1 league in the country,” Pelphrey said.
The 2009 NBA Draft, which will be held Thursday, won’t have much SEC flavor after the early entry draft list was finalized and released last Wednesday. But league coaches aren’t complaining as the SEC aims to pick itself up after what will be remembered as a dismal season.
One by one, talented players like Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson, Tennessee’s Tyler Smith, South Carolina’s Devan Downey and Dominique Archie, LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell, Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado and Arkansas’ Michael Washington declared for the draft as underclassmen this spring. But one by one, they said no thanks to the possibility of turning pro, opting to return to their respective schools. [read more]