Right after the Fresno State Bulldogs were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament, sophomore wing Paul George announced he was going to test for waters of the NBA Draft. He will go through workouts, but he didn't expect to hire an agent, allowing him the chance to return to school before the May 8 deadline.
He told the Fresno Bee after the WAC tournament loss that it was about a 50-50 decision.
George led the team in scoring (16.8 points) and rebounding (7.2), was second in assists (3.0) and shot 35.3 percent from 3-point land. At an athletic 6-8, 210, he fits the NBA profile as a big shooting guard, especially because of his rim-rattling skills when taking it strong to the basket.
He can afford to be a bit more polished and have an even better outside shot, but, if he does come out now, he's a potential first-rounder because of his athletic skills and high ceiling.
But if he does come back, Fresno State will look to make a big leap from a 15-18 season and a 7-9 record in the WAC. That was a step up from 2008-09, when the Bulldogs were 13-21 overall, 3-13 in the WAC.
Coach Steve Cleveland, who just finished his fifth season at Fresno State, has had to deal with NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations from the previous staff. He might be on the cusp of being rewarded for his rebuilding, but he could really use George in order to get over the hump.
FINAL RECORD: 15-18, 7-9, fifth in the WAC.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Fresno State was 12-5 at home, knocking off three of the four best teams in the WAC -- New Mexico State, Nevada and Louisiana Tech. Sophomore wing Paul George developed into a second-team All-WAC performer, an explosive scorer who put up at least 28 points in a game four times. Freshman big man Greg Smith, who had committed to Arizona in the summer of 2008 but then decided to stay closer to home, was the WAC Freshman of the Year.
The Bulldogs didn't have much depth, part of the reason for playing a zone defense that held opponents to 42.6 shooting. Overall, Fresno State showed improvement a year after finishing last in the conference with a 3-13 mark.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Bulldogs struggled away from home, going 3-12 overall on the road, including 1-7 within the league. That's a sign of a young team, which Fresno State was, with only one senior (Sylvester Seay). Fresno State could have used another shooter, as it shot a woeful 29.0 percent from 3-point range in league games and a WAC-low 40.6 percent overall in conference games. F Paul George suffered a severe ankle sprain in the second half of the season, costing him four full games and slowing the team's momentum down the stretch.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just hope Paul makes the right decision, the decision that will be best for him and his family. Any decision he makes, the team and the coaches support him. It will hurt majorly losing a player like Paul. But again, we just have to take it. We still have other players. Other players have to step up and work hard during the spring and summer and hopefully, we can keep on building." -- Freshman F Jerry Brown, in the Fresno Bee, on the possibility of sophomore Paul George leaving for the NBA.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The Bulldogs can see that the future is bright, although much of that depends on what sophomore Paul George decides to do about the NBA Draft. Fresno State had other talent in the sophomore class this season, including junior college transfer Steven Shepp, who provided needed stability at the point guard position, allowing everyone else to comfortably fit into their roles. Greg Smith should be an advantage for years to come, as he is the kind of low-post presence that the WAC rarely brings in as a freshman.
THE BAD NEWS: If Paul George leaves, who is going to score for this team next season? As it is, the Bulldogs lose senior F Sylvester Seay, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. Seay was a nice tag-team partner to George and likely is headed to a pro career. Fresno State might be able to overcome Seay's departure, but it becomes devastating if FSU loses both of its go-to scorers. Even with them, the Bulldogs struggled on offense late in the season, including a 39-point outing at Utah State on March 1.
KEY RETURNEES: F Paul George will contend for WAC Player of the Year honors if he comes back. Beyond that, C Greg Smith is a fine centerpiece, averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds as a freshman. He needs to work on his free throws, though, after making just 58.6 percent (85 of 145). Steven Shepp had a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (146 assists, 71 turnovers) in his first season running the point for Fresno State. Mike Ladd made 39.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, hitting 66 of 169.
--Jonathan Wills, a 6-6 wing from the University of New Mexico, redshirted this season as a transfer. He started 19 games for the Lobos in two seasons, but only two in 2008-09 as he fell out of the rotation. "Jonathan is a very good shooter who can play all three perimeter positions," Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland. "He is skilled on offense and defense."
--Junior C Brandon Webster played in seven games this season and then decided he would transfer after the spring semester amid academic concerns.
--F Paul George set the school's single-season free-throw percentage record, making 90.9 percent (120 of 132).