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Basketball: Eight Pac-10 players declare early

Sunday wasn’t merely Day 2 of the NFL, it was the deadline for college basketball underclassmen to enter their names in the NBA draft pool.

Eight Pac-10 players made the leap, but Cal junior guard Patrick Christopher wasn’t one of them. He initially indicated he would “test the waters,” then changed his mind. Good decision. He likely wouldn’t have been picked this year.

His decision to remain at Berkeley makes the Bears the favorite to win the Pac-10 Conference next season, according to ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. We’ll see. The Bears certainly should be in the mix, but it’s a bit early to be pegging the conference 1-through-10.

We’ll know more after June 15, the deadline for early entries to withdraw their names from the draft.

Here are the Pac-10 underclassmen who entered the draft:

– Chase Budinger, Arizona. The junior forward put his name on the list a year ago, then returned to school. Can’t do that twice, according to the rules, so Budinger is committed. He wasn’t interested in sticking around for the Wildcats’ transition season under a new coach, and he’s expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick.

– DeMar DeRozan, USC: The 6-7 freshman small forward is regarded as one of the best athletes in the draft. It’s no surprise that he put his name in the pool, especially after finishing the season strong. Likely a lottery pick, he won’t be back.

– Taj Gibson, USC: Reportedly, Gibson has not hired an agent. But he’s 23 and the clock is ticking against him. The 6-9 junior post seems likely to return to college only if the scouts warn him off and convince him he won’t be picked at all. That’s not going to happen, so don’t expect him back.

– Daniel Hackett, USC: This move has many of the draft experts confounded, because the 6-5 junior point guard may not be drafted. He’s reportedly hired an agent, so the deal is done. Some believe he will wind up playing professionally in Italy, where he was born while his father, Rudy, played pro ball. But Italy would be there a year from now, so go figure.

– James Harden, Arizona State: The sophomore guard and Pac-10 Player of the Year was a sure thing to leave. He’s projected as a lottery pick, perhaps a top-5 selection. He is strong, skilled and added a jump shot this year to his ability to score in traffic. An obvious move, a smart move.

– Jordan Hill, Arizona: The 6-10 junior center made huge strides in his game this season and is projected as a lottery pick in what is a fairly tepid draft, especially for big men. There was no reason for Hill not to declare for the draft.

– Jrue Holiday, UCLA: The freshman guard has not signed with an agent and could return, at which point he would become the Bruins’ leader next season. He was judged something of an under-achiever by some this season, but coach Ben Howland’s system didn’t allow Holiday to put up the kind of numbers most expected. Many scouts believe he will blossom at the pro level, so he could elevate his status with good showings in pre-draft workouts. Seem like a 50-50 proposition.

– Nic Wise, Arizona: The junior guard put his name in the draft because he had nothing to lose. But unlike his two teammates, Wise has not hired an agent, and he is expected to be back in Tucson next season.

Jeff Faraudo