By John Keegan Special to Published May 08, 2007 at 5:05 AM

There he was, nearly two weeks ago, standing alone in front of bright lights and cameras in the basement of the Al McGuire Center. Tom Crean was nowhere in sight.

Dominic James declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. He will not hire an agent, allowing him to change his mind until June 18, ten days before the draft. As always, his answers were polished.

Unfortunately for James, he does not think his skills need more polish before tackling the NBA.

"I didn't shoot the ball as well as I wanted to [last season]," James said. "As hard as I worked during the off-season, it really didn't show on the court. But those are the type of things I'm going to show in those [pre-draft] workouts. I don't feel like I gotta prove anything, I just gotta show them that I can improve."

"I feel like I've got the necessities to take my game to the next level."

He's got the necessities to get drafted, sure. He does not yet have the tools groomed for an 82-game schedule against faster players than he has ever seen. When James heads to Orlando for pre-draft workouts next month, he will try to convince scouts otherwise.

"Even though the stats don't show it I feel like I'm a more confident shooter," he said.

This is not a situation where James needs a little work on his jumper, the way Dwyane Wade did when he left early for the NBA in 2003. James' jumper is the one profound weakness in his game.

There are those who think a player risks stunting his growth by leaving college before he is an NBA-ready product. There are others who say a player must seize the first opportunity to get drafted in the first round, where money is guaranteed.

These folks will also say that, if a guy leaves early then busts, it is because he was never any good at the outset. Then, they'll tell you that players develop quicker by riding the pine in the NBA than they do by dominating college games.

Patrick Ewing, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who averaged better than 20 points and ten rebounds per game their rookie seasons, would disagree. So would three of the best point guards of the 1990's: John Stockton, Gary Payton and Mark Jackson, all four-year college guys.

Dwyane Wade would probably disagree, too. In 2002, after his first college season (his second practicing with Marquette), Wade likely would have become a first-rounder had he made the jump.

Instead, he stayed another year, learned how to take over games and had a triple-double against Kentucky. His timing was perfect, and he landed in 2003 lottery.

James is not Wade, but he does have the ability to control a game.

He did it Jan. 23 at Pittsburgh, when he scored 23 points, no turnovers and drained two game-winning free throws. He did it against Duke Nov. 21 in Kansas City, with 25 points, seven assists and one turnover. Six days after that, he scored Marquette's last 18 points in a 65-62 comeback victory at Valparaiso.

The potential is there. From Feb. 1 through the Golden Eagles' first round NCAA Tournament exit, that potential did not show itself. James shot 41-for-143 from the field in that time, sinking his season field goal percentage to .384, a disturbing number.

That number is beyond disturbing, actually. Only six NBA guards with 445 field goal attempts, the same number James had, shot worse than James this season. And those numbers came against NBA defenders (anyone who says college kids play "better" defense than NBA players does not watch the NBA).

James is not at his best when jacking up outside shots. For some reason, that's exactly what he did down the stretch last season. On the year, he attempted 5.4 three-pointers per game. That number needs to come way down next season if he comes back to Marquette.

"They try to critique my shot, but that's not the number one thing I do as a player," James said. "I feel like my number one asset as a player is getting to the rack and creating for everybody else."

Exactly, so why not use another year to revert to that attitude? He took that attitude his freshman season and had better offensive numbers. Playing limited minutes against overwhelming NBA talent will not allow him to develop into a true point guard.

James might be worried that his supporting cast can't complement him as well as Steve Novak did in 2005-‘06, and that his stock will fall if he waits another year. He should be careful of thinking this way, though.

Scouts know talent when they see it; James' stock will not fall because of his supporting cast.

"In the NBA, it's a more open-floor game," James said. "You can drive to the hole a little better, you've got very talented players that are going to make you better as a player, complement you in different ways. Up-and-down pace, fast-paced game, up-tempo - that's the type of game I like to play."

James has said repeatedly that, in order to stay in the draft, a reliable source needs to assure him that he is a first-round pick. If James thinks he "can drive to the hole better" in the NBA, he had better be sure of his outside jumper.

Otherwise, NBA teams will dare him to shoot even more than college teams did last season. Then, he becomes a 5-foot-11 point guard who can't get to the rim. In other words, he becomes expendable.


John Keegan Special to
John Keegan is a senior at Marquette University.