After a season in which the SEC was constantly discussed as being "down" and by far the worst of the six "BCS" conferences, the offseason has been excellent to the league.
The good news continued on Thursday, as Tennessee's Tyler Smith and South Carolina's Dominique Archie both withdrew their names from the NBA Draft and will return for their senior seasons.
Smith wanted a first-round guarantee but never got it, and also decided not to seriously pursue a potential career in Europe despite considering it initially.
“I thought it would come down to my gut feeling, but my gut was leaning toward leaving,’’ Smith said. “But then in talking to my family, friends and teammates these past few days, I’ve decided to return for my senior year.’’
With Smith back in the fold, Tennessee returns every key player from last season's team, and also welcomes power forward recruit Kenny Hall into the fold. Smith and Wayne Chism form a very good frontcourt tandem, while Scotty Hopson should develop into a solid scorer on the perimeter. J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze also return as starters.
As for Archie, the 6-7 forward was not projected to be drafted and many were caught by surprise when he announced that he would be entering the draft. However, in recent days, rumors grew that he was likely not returning to the Gamecocks and could even attempt to play in Europe. Those rumors were clearly not true.
"Going into the process I fully expected to come back to school, but it was good for me to get insight and feedback throughout the workouts," he said. "I'm very excited about my senior season and the direction that our team is headed."
Even with Archie back, head coach Darrin Horn is still awaiting point guard Devan Downey's decision. He entered his name into the NBA Draft, but did not sign with an agent and has until Monday to withdraw. Reports this week indicate that Downey is undecided, but is leaning towards pursuing a professional career. As of now, Archie and Mike Holmes are one of the better frontcourt duos in the conference, but Downey would provide an All-American talent on the perimeter. Horn does bring in two quality recruits in Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson.
The decisions by Smith and Archie to return are the latest in a string of choices by SEC players to come back next season. Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, Arkansas' Michael Washington and LSU's Tasmin Mitchell have each already announced their decisions to return. Florida's Nick Calathes is planning to play in Europe next season, while Downey and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks are still undecided.
No matter what, it looks like next season in the SEC is going to be much better than this past campaign.
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