Why do players return to school instead of declaring for the draft?
The consensus top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft and WNBA Draft came to very different conclusions with regards to their future, shaking up their respective draft boards. For triple-double machine Sabrina Ionescu, the rationale for returning to Oregon instead of heading to the WNBA was simple: she wanted another shot at the national championship. For the hyper-athletic Zion Williamson however, the NBA proved to be the more enticing option despite having similarly fallen short in his collegiate quest. Why do players choose to return to school instead of declaring for the draft?
Not ready: Although the top draft prospects are highly-regarded, they may perceive their skills to be on the raw side and may appreciate the opportunity to hone these skills under a coach and system that they are familiar with. After all, players are at liberty to attend whichever college they prefer, but the draft puts this decision out of their hands. This also gives them the chance to improve their draft stock, as they aim to move into the first round or even the lottery.
Experience: Even if nothing beats the real deal, playing in college can help players to gain experience as well. For a start, playing time is likely to be abundant for a collegiate star but not a rookie in the NBA and WNBA, who may be more likely to spend time in the G League for instance. In addition, there is a stark difference between the heavy responsibility of carrying your school and being merely a cog in the wheel for a professional team.
National championship: This is the commonly-cited reason for returning to school, as every player hopes to end their collegiate career on a high note with the national crown, yet this dream is dashed for all but one team each season. The feeling of coming close may drive a player to return for one more season, in order to achieve this ultimate goal.
School life: Of course, players may also simply enjoy the school culture and their collegiate experience, and hope to prolong it for another year. Some players also return to graduate and get their degrees, which may be challenging in the professional ranks due to the extensive travel required.