NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Providence vs Kentucky

The countdown is on for NBA Draft prospects who have retained their collegiate eligibility to make a final determination on their futures. With the NBA Draft combine in the rearview mirror and the May 31 withdrawal deadline for college players approaching, a handful of big decisions loom for players who have been gathering feedback from professional organizations.

There are many factors that come into play amid these decisions, including the NIL paydays that may await back in college basketball. But no two situations are exactly alike. While the promise of an NBA two-way contract may be enough to lure some players into sticking in the draft pool, others with the same outlook might choose returning to college with the goal of working their way into the first round of next year's draft.

With agents, professional organizations, college coaches, NIL collectives, family and friends all typically involved to a certain degree in these decisions, players must cut through the clutter to make an informed decision. It's easier said than done, especially under the pressure of a deadline. As that deadline approaches, here are the top 10 toughest decisions for players weighing whether to stay in the NBA Draft or return to college,

1. Zach Edey, Purdue

Big Board rank: 72

Edey faces the same decision that other superstar collegiate bigs have faced in recent years. As a traditional big man without much lateral quickness, Edey faces an uphill battle to carve out a steady role in the NBA. So while he's essentially conquered the college game already from an individual standpoint, it could be worth returning for another go-around at Purdue. That possibility is made more attractive by the fact that Edey is working on getting a new visa that would allow him to profit through NIL more easily than he could last season as a Canadian citizen playing in the United States.

2. Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

Big Board rank: 69

Tshiebwe has been through this before and must decide again whether he wants to play another season of college basketball. Who could blame him if he's had enough of the pressure that comes with playing at Kentucky? On the other hand, that unique environment at Kentucky also creates an opportunity for Tshiebwe to capitalize through NIL. For a big man with even less professional upside than Edey, the best financial move may be suiting up for the Wildcats once again.

3. Dillon Mitchell, Texas

Big Board rank: 44

The NIL groups supporting Texas might be willing to hand over a chunk of the war chest to Mitchell, who would factor into the Longhorns' rotation in a significant way if he returns to college. With a bevy of key players departing from Texas, there is ample room for Mitchell to build on the 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds he averaged in 17.5 minutes per game during his true freshman season. The former five-star prospect will almost undoubtedly get at least a two-way contract based solely on his tools. But with another year of seasoning and an expanded role at Texas, the 6-foot-8 forward could play his way into the lottery and a much more significant rookie payday.

4. Trey Alexander, Creighton

Big Board rank: 14

Alexander may get knocked because he's only 6-4 and not regarded as a true point guard.  But his wingspan is enormous and he actually rated as Creighton's best defender last season, per Yes, he even rated better than 7-foot shot-blocking menace Ryan Kalkbrenner. Opinions seem to vary widely on Alexander, but he shot 41% from 3-point range in 2022-23, can play either guard spot and is far better defensively than you might think at first glance. Considering his strong combine performance, staying in the draft could be a sensible play for Alexander.

5. Kobe Brown, Missouri

Big Board rank: 40

Brown has one season of collegiate eligibility remaining after a breakout campaign for Missouri in 2022-23. While he would likely be the leading scorer and a candidate for SEC Player of the Year if he returned to college, Brown may also want to strike while his standing as a prospect is high. After never shooting better than 25.3% from beyond the arc in his first three seasons, the physical 6-foot-7 wing hit 45.5% of his long-range tries for the Tigers last season. Ultimately, he is versatile on both ends of the floor and, at 23, the assurance of a two-way contract could be enough to keep Brown in the draft. But if he's going to be fighting for his spot in camp, then returning to college, presumably collecting a nice NIL payday and being "the guy" for an SEC team that plays a fun style isn't the worst alternative.

6. Arthur Kaluma, Creighton

Big Board rank: 61

College coaches will be closely monitoring Kaluma's decision. He may become the most highly sought transfer of June if he withdraws from the draft after starting for two seasons at Creighton. The versatile 6-7 forward seems to be hovering around the late-second round range in most projections, so returning to college may be a viable option for Kaluma. If he can up his career 29.1% 3-point shooting mark in the season ahead, he could improve his stock.

7. Jordan Walsh, Arkansas

Big Board rank: 51

Walsh is a versatile glue player with high defensive upside who can play multiple positions. The problem is that he didn't do anything at a prolific rate in his freshman season at Arkansas, and it's unclear if another season of college basketball would help or hurt his stock. If Walsh could improve upon his 27.8% 3-point shooting mark and flash some more prowess as a distributor, returning to the Razorbacks would be a good move. But if his camp has intel that a two-way contract may await him this cycle, then he could be better off sticking in the draft instead of rejoining an Arkansas roster in the midst of a significant overhaul. 

8. Julian Phillips, Tennessee

Big Board rank: 30

Phillips registered the best vertical jump of anyone at the combine, which vibes with his reputation as an athletic wing blessed with great physical tools. Those tools manifested themselves well on the defensive end during his freshman season at Tennessee, as Phillips was an absolute star on that end. But his offensive game lacked polish, as expected. The 6-8 former five-star prospect entered his name in the transfer portal as well, so his options are wide open. While there may be a few desperate college teams out there with boosters willing to throw money at Phillips, there are also surely a handful of NBA teams already willing to make the long-term investment required to see Phillips reach his full potential. Also, Phillips' offensive game needs so much work that it's hard to see him improving his stock dramatically in just one more season of college ball. Staying in the draft seems like a good option here.

9. Dillon Jones, Weber State

Big Board rank: 52

Those who didn't closely follow the Big Sky may be struggling here. Jones is a 6-6 forward with three seasons of experience at Weber State, where he averaged 16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals as a junior. He's just a career 31.8% 3-point shooter but is strong and versatile. After getting a call-up from the G League Elite Camp, Jones performed well at the NBA Combine. He is firmly on the radar of professional scouts now, and another year of improvement as a 3-point shooter could make Jones a more solid professional prospect.

10. Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Marquette

Big Board rank: 26

In a game at the NBA Draft Combine last week, Prosper did something he rarely had the opportunity to do at Marquette and shined as a primary offensive option. He finished with a game-high 21 points and also made a defensive impact. At 6-8 and 218 pounds, he's got the frame and flashes of the game needed to receive first-round consideration. His defensive metrics were a bit underwhelming for the Golden Eagles this past season and he's just a 31.6% 3-point shooter in three years of college basketball. But he's a high-energy player who improved significantly during each season he played in college basketball. Capitalizing on a strong combine performance seems like it would be a savvy move for Prosper.