Posted December 01, 2011 on AP on Fox
Terrence Jones and top-ranked Kentucky have been playing games for three weeks. All Brandon Knight has been able to do is watch his friend and former teammate. The NBA lockout put Knight's professional career on hold before it even began after he opted to become a one-and-done player for Kentucky. Jones could have opted for the draft, too, but stayed for his sophomore season with the Wildcats. ''I'm playing fast-paced, fun basketball. I'm glad I came back to have this opportunity,'' said Jones, who has still been hanging out with Knight on campus. ''He did what was best for him. ... It's just his career is on pause right now.'' The lockout is nearing an end, which will allow rookies like Knight to sign contracts and finally join their new teams. For the players who stayed in school, there was no such wait, no such frustration, and so far no regrets in staying rather than playing in the pros. Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger, North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes and Baylor forward Perry Jones III are all on top 10 teams. They were all potential lottery draft picks last summer had they decided to turn pro then. ''There's no regret so far. This team is a lot of fun,'' Sullinger said. ''It's a lot like last year's team and we're coming together as a family and having fun. ... I'm glad I'm here doing what I love doing best, being a college kid and playing college basketball.'' Sullinger averaged 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds through the first seven games of his sophomore season, surpassing last year's stats. He scored 21 points in the second-ranked Buckeyes' 85-63 win over No. 3 Duke this week. College players had to declare their draft intentions in May, a month before the Dallas Mavericks were crowned NBA champions when it was still unclear if there would even be a lockout. Knight, the eighth overall pick by Detroit, was the fourth one-and-done college player drafted in June. Duke's Kyrie Irving was picked first overall by Cleveland and Enes Kanter was third overall by Utah, though he was never eligible his only season at Kentucky. Texas freshman Tristan Thompson was picked fourth overall by Cleveland, and his Longhorns freshman teammate Cory Joseph was a late first-round pick by San Antonio. Perry Jones III had long been expected to be Baylor's first one-and-done player, projected to be as high as a top-three pick. He said the NBA's labor uncertainty didn't impact his decision to stay with the seventh-ranked Bears, who have their highest ranking ever. ''No, not really,'' Jones said. ''The lockout could have been three days, four days, a week. It could have been just as short as the NFL lockout.'' The NFL is playing a full season and missed only one exhibition game. The NBA schedule is being reduced from 82 to likely 66 games. Jones didn't making his regular-season debut for Baylor until this week, when he had 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a 90-54 victory over Prairie View. He missed the first five games because of an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits before he arrived at Baylor. That was part of a six-game penalty that started with the Bears' final game last season, in their Big 12 tournament game. Still, he was able to practice with the team, play in an exhibition game and during a four-game trip to Canada in August. But that was nothing like getting back this week with several dunks. ''It felt like I was home,'' Jones said. ''Just ready to play with my team and compete for a national championship.'' Barnes and the Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 team and stayed there until a loss last week that allowed Terrence Jones and the Wildcats to take over the top spot. ''I've still got a season to go. I can't think about what if or any of that,'' Terrence Jones said about not going to the NBA early. ''I just want to get better with these dudes and have this be a happy ending, really.'' Kentucky made it to the NCAA Final Four last season, losing to eventual national champion Connecticut after beating North Carolina in an NCAA regional final. That was a tough finish to the freshman season for Barnes, who was focused on North Carolina and not when he might start his NBA career. ''It's hard to go into the NCAA tournament and the Elite Eight trying to worry about your NBA stock is. You get conflicted and you don't play well,'' Barnes said. ''My philosophy is, I'm going to play my college season to try to be the best player I can be so we can be the best team possible. ... The best thing to do is just focus on college.'' Barnes is averaging 17.7 points a game as a sophomore, up from 15.5 last season. Even with a sprained right ankle, Barnes scored 20 points in a 60-57 victory over ninth-ranked Wisconsin on Wednesday night. One person not surprised that Barnes stayed in school was his mother, Shirley. ''I probably thought he'd be coming back because of the way they ended in the Elite Eight. I don't think that was in his makeup and I didn't think he would leave college without a national championship,'' she said. ''I might've been surprised if he would've left. He loves it. He loves everything about Chapel Hill. ... Everything's perfect for him.'' --- AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky., and freelance writer Craig Merz in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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