By Kevin Sweeney
We may be more than 7 months away from the beginning of the 2016-17 regular season, but the upcoming seasons for Horizon League contenders Valparaiso and Oakland already hang in the balance.
After incredibly successful junior seasons, Valparaiso forward Alec Peters, as well as Oakland’s Kay Felder, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year, have decided to test the waters of the NBA Draft this spring. With the new guidelines in effect allowing players to return to school after declaring for the NBA Draft if they choose not to hire an agent, more and more players are entering to see what the market might be for their services. Peters and Felder are taking advantage of this rule, as they have entered but have not signed with agents.
While this rule is a huge advantage for the players, it places tremendous pressure on the coaches of these teams. First off, they have to save a scholarship for the player, should they want to return. However, if the player hires an agent late in the process, it may be too late to use that scholarship for the upcoming season. It could take away the chance for the coach to bring in an impact transfer or recruit who could help his program right away.
It’s one thing for the likes of Duke and Kentucky to have to play this waiting game, as they bring in impact freshmen every year and are used to having to reload right away. However, for mid-majors like Oakland and Valparaiso, it is a much more difficult process. Felder and Peters are each players through which their entire team’s offense runs through. It becomes very difficult for the coach to plan for the upcoming season.
The opinions of Felder and Peters are wide-ranging. Felder’s diminuitive 5-9 frame hinders his draft stock, but his electrifying speed and shooting as well as excellent passing ability has helped him earn plenty of looks from NBA scouts. Felder has indicated that he would like to hire an agent and, judging on this Instagram post, doesn’t plan to return to school.
I've been thinking about the NBA (my ultimate dream) and coming back for my senior year and today I made the decision to leave school early and enter my name in the 2016 NBA draft! God has blessed me all my life and this year has been such a blessing! I would like to say thank you to everyone that helped me along the way! But now the work gets even harder!! And I'm ready for it! OAKLAND has been such a great place and I'll never forget the memories I had here with my teammates, coaches, trainers and professors!! I'll forever be a GOLDEN GRIZZLY 🐻🤘🏾
However, poor play at the combine or an untimely injury could lead Felder to want to return to school.
For Peters, things are wide open. He could hire an agent and hope to be drafted, graduate and transfer to a bigger school, or return for his senior season at Valparaiso. He is an enticing prospect because of his exceptional 3-point shooting (44%) despite being 6’9″. He projects as a tall small forward, or a stretch 4. I think his value to NBA clubs lies in his ability to play the 4. The new generation of “small-ball” being played in the NBA looks for power forwards with good rebounding skills, the ability to guard multiple positions, and a knock-down 3-point shot. Peters possesses all of these skills. Should he elect to return to Valparaiso, he would be playing under a new coach, as assistant Matt Lottich will be elevated to head coach, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. He replaces Bryce Drew, who recently accepted the Vanderbilt vacancy.
Overall, these players face an incredibly difficult decision. They can leave, and take the million-dollar paycheck that may be at the end of the tunnel, or they can return to school in hopes of improving their draft stock and reaching the NCAA Tournament. Personally, I wonder what else these 2 players have to prove at this level. They have been such accomplished players at their respective programs, and one can only score so many points per game. However, a guy like Buddy Hield, who seemed destined to be a second round pick had he entered last season despite being the Big 12 Player of the Year. Just a year later, Hield is projected to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully, whichever decision these 2 players make winds up being the right one as they attempt to achieve their childhood dream: to reach the NCAA Tournament.