NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-Illinois vs Iowa State

The deadline for players to make their stay-or-go NBA Draft decisions passed Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. ET, bringing clarity to both the draft pool and a handful of 2024-25 college basketball rosters. While several of those who withdrew from the draft still must decide on their transfer destinations for the season ahead, we are one step closer to having a complete picture of who will be playing where in college basketball come November.

Many of the decisions were tough, as players navigated the multi-layered pre-draft process while attempting to gather as much intel as possible in order to make an informed decision. For some, a second-round draft grade or the assurance of a two-way NBA contract can be enough to tip the scales in favor of turning pro.

For others, the allure of a big NIL payday and the promise of a featured role for a major college basketball program outweighs anything outside of a guaranteed selection in the lottery range. Every player evaluates their situation on their own terms, and most reach a decision in consultation with a group of confidants.

As the dust settles on this year's deadline, we are looking at who made the best stay-or-go decisions for this week's Dribble Handoff.

Coleman Hawkins, Illinois/Transfer portal

Every decision any player makes about whether to return to college or pursue professional opportunities is a personal decision often layered with various factors, which is why I stopped pretending I know what's best for others a while ago. That acknowledged, from my perspective, it sure seems like Hawkins was wise to withdraw from the 2024 NBA Draft and make himself available on the open market. He's about to learn what it's like to be on the right side of a supply-and-demand situation.

Right now, supply is low. Right now, demand is high.

Do you realize how many programs were holding back NIL packages for players they were trying to lure back to campus only to watch them remain in the 2024 NBA Draft at the deadline? Answer: Lots. Now, those programs have that money to spend elsewhere — and Hawkins is one of the best options on the market after averaging 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game this past season for an Illinois team that advanced to the Elite Eight. Bottom line, he's about to get paid — presumably significantly more than he would've made had he opted to forgo his fifth year of college eligibility. -- Gary Parrish

Hunter Sallis, Wake Forest

Sallis is a fine college talent who transferred from Gonzaga last year and promptly pumped his averages from 4.5 points to 18.0; from 2.2 rebounds to 4.1; from 1.4 assists to 2.5; from 25.6% 3-point shooting to 40.5. He turned into a fringe NBA Draft prospect, but ultimately decided on banking his NIL money with a program that should be top-five-good in the ACC next season. I love this decision. 

The Demon Deacons haven't made the first round of the NCAA Tournament since 2010. Sallis' decision to return to Winston-Salem will end that streak, after a 15-year drought, in 2025. He's that good and, just as importantly, he will have the talent around him to finally get this program into the field of 64. Steve Forbes has been a portal whisperer essentially every season, and I expect that to materialize again with former Iowa State wing/five-star prospect Omaha Biliew now in black and gold. Efton Reid will also be back. Yeah, it's time. Wake Forest will break through — and I wouldn't have thought that if Sallis left. -- Matt Norlander

Hunter Sallis was an All-ACC First Team honoree last season. USATSI

Jaxson Robinson, BYU/Kentucky

After a breakout senior season at BYU under coach Mark Pope operating as one of the best shooters in the sport, Robinson made the right call by entering the draft and getting feedback -- then again made the right call by withdrawing from the draft on deadline day and committing to Kentucky. His stock wasn't as hot as it could be this time next year after a just-OK showing at the NBA Draft Combine, and another year with Pope playing under the spotlight in Lexington, Kentucky, for the Wildcats should do nothing but help his case next year. If the basketball world isn't aware of Robinson just yet, they'll soon know his name as one of the most underrated hoopers in the college game next season. -- Kyle Boone

Jamir Watkins, Florida State/Transfer portal

Watkins is positioned to cash in via the transfer portal after withdrawing from the draft. Though it may have been tempting for a 6-foot-7 forward to stay in and push for a two-way contract, he's got a real chance to improve his stock as a senior and to earn a huge payday in the process. Watkins enjoyed a breakout junior season at Florida State in 2023-24, averaging 15.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while shooting a career-best 34.4% from beyond the arc. He is one of the last available of the top 80 transfers in college basketball, and with a rare combination of size and versatility, his choice to return to college should pay dividends both in the 2024-25 season and beyond. -- David Cobb

Mark Sears, Alabama

Had Sears stayed in the NBA Draft, there was a strong chance he would've gotten selected, but the climb for a player of his caliber to go from a two-way contract to earning a fully guaranteed NBA deal is an uphill climb. Returning to Alabama was the right decision because his team will be under strong consideration to be preseason No. 1 this fall. Sears will be one of the top contenders to win the Naismith Player of the Year award, and his Alabama team should be one of the favorites to cut down the nets next spring - which wouldn't have been (as) achievable if Sears kept his name in the draft. -- Cameron Salerno