When forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a freshman at Villanova, announced last week that he would pull out of the N.B.A. draft and return for his sophomore season, he kept alive a streak that has been running for nearly 25 years.
Villanova has not had a one-and-done player under Coach Jay Wright, and the program will not have one this year, either. In fact, the program’s last one was Tim Thomas, who was taken seventh in 1997, and that was even before the N.B.A.’s so-called one-and-done rule went into effect, in 2006. It required players to be 19 and at least one year removed from their graduating high school class to enter the draft.
That led to a wave of players spending one year in college before entering the N.B.A. — but none of them were from Villanova. It is one of a couple of programs to have eight or more players currently in the N.B.A. without a single one-and-done. Virginia is another.
Robinson-Earl, a 6-foot-9 prospect from the Kansas City area, “definitely would have gotten drafted,” Wright said. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, he was one of several players from high-profile programs who either withdrew from the draft or did not enter it.
He said the reason was the “uncertainty” of what the N.B.A. was “going to do and just kind of the timeline of that.”
“I didn’t want to worry a lot about that throughout the times that we’re going through right now,” he said. “I just want to keep focusing on getting better and going back to Villanova and keep my mind-set set on that.”
The N.B.A.’s early entry eligibility deadline, when underclassmen have to declare for the draft, is Sunday at 11:59 p.m., Eastern time. The deadline to withdraw is June 15 at 5 p.m., Eastern time. The draft is scheduled for June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The N.B.A. has not announced any changes to those dates, or to the draft combine, which is scheduled for May 21 to 24 in Chicago — but it is widely expected that the draft will be postponed to August or September. It most likely depends on if the 2019-20 N.B.A. season resumes and when it ends if it does. The N.B.A. suspended its season on March 11.
The league is considering a plan in which it plays the remainder of the regular season and playoffs in Las Vegas. Major League Baseball is mulling a similar plan, where all 30 teams would play in Arizona.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said professional sports could return if two conditions were met: No fans were in the stands and players were sequestered in hotels with regular Covid-19 testing.
“There’s a way of doing that,” Dr. Fauci told Peter Hamby on “Good Luck America,” an original series by Snapchat. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled.”
He added, “Have them tested, like every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”
The uncertainty of the N.B.A.’s plans has had an impact on other college players considering the draft.
Bill Self, the coach at Kansas, said “probably one or two” of his players would have entered the draft had it been a normal year. Two players from Florida, Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson, opted to return to college, citing the coronavirus. Lewis, a freshman, expressed a desire to compete in the N.C.A.A. tournament next year after this year’s was canceled as many conference tournaments were underway.
“Our season was cut short, and we were not able to complete our season that we were supposed to,” Lewis wrote on Instagram. “My dream of playing in the N.B.A. is still a top priority, but my heart is in Gainesville! With that being said, I am more than happy to announce that I will be returning for the 2020-21 season.”
Darris Nichols, an assistant coach at Florida, said he advised his players that it might make more sense to skip the draft process this year. In a normal year, some undergraduates would “test the waters” by meeting with and working out for N.B.A. teams. A group of 60 or 70 players would be invited to work out in front of every team at the combine in May.
Each undergraduate would then be evaluated by the undergraduate advisory committee, which provides feedback on where they might be drafted. Depending on the feedback, players could return to campus if they withdrew from the draft before the deadline.
“That’s not happening this year, so I don’t know what waters there are to test,” Nichols said.
Because of restrictions on access to gyms, players are limited in what they can do.
“I’ve been doing a lot of ball-handling, just kind of in the garage,’’ Robinson-Earl said. “Just really safe ways of just getting in the gym — just making sure there’s very minimal people going in and out. There have been times when I found a gym but there were too many people and I didn’t want to risk doing that. I can even work on technique outside on the driveway.”
John Calipari, the coach at Kentucky, has had five underclassmen declare for the draft this spring. None have pulled out. He said he was worried about what kind of shape college players would be in when they had to work out for N.B.A. teams.
“If they spend two months and don’t do anything and then try to go work out for an N.B.A. team, it isn’t going to work out for them,” Calipari said. “There are no gyms, no health clubs, unless they have a gym in their house, none of them do. Unless they have a workout area in their home, none of them do, how are we doing this?”
Calipari also said that any player considering entering the draft should get more time to make their decision.
Despite the uncertainty, programs like Villanova, Kansas and Florida will benefit from the return of talented and experienced players next season — assuming there is a next season.
The Villanova sophomore Saddiq Bey, the Julius Erving Award winner as the nation’s top small forward, is likely to remain in the draft. But Wright left the possibility open that Bey could change his mind, too.
“If he doesn’t get something that’s really definite, I think there’s a chance he could come back,” Wright said.
By extension, Wright won’t know for certain what his roster will look like until Bey makes a final decision.
One thing is for sure: Because of Robinson-Earl’s decision, Wright’s streak of not having a one-and-done will continue. And he’s just fine with that.