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No Reason to Party if They’re Coming Out

The last time they played together in the same town, it was April in Indianapolis, and it was so cool.

Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, carrying tradition to within two hours of another national title, carrying teamwork into every conversation, carrying themselves like concrete and steel.

They were more than old-fashioned UCLA guards, they were symbols of a new UCLA era.

“This is just the start,” Afflalo said.

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On Thursday, they played in the same town again, only it was June in El Segundo, and it was so weird.

Farmar was at Toyota Sports Center, working out for the Lakers.

Afflalo was at the Spectrum Club, working out for the Clippers.

It wasn’t the start, but quite possibly the end.

They were still symbols, but of something entirely different.

Two sophomores who once represented everything special about college sports were suddenly representing everything that is scary.

They are both considering turning pro even though neither is a certain first-round pick, and even though many of the game’s top personnel experts are counseling them to stay in school.

Scouts say they need another year in the UCLA weight room.

Front-office types say they need another year of Ben Howland fundamentals.

Everyone agrees that their value will increase with another year in a winning UCLA program.

History says career-ending injuries suffered by top college athletes are rare.

In the end, the choice should be clear.

Yeah, as clear as the message blaring from the kids’ iPods and advisors.

“Today, everybody wants everything now, now, now,” said Bruins Coach Howland. “It’s hard to understand patience.”

This being the first year of age restrictions that will prevent high school seniors from being drafted, Farmar and Afflalo clearly can see a brief window of opportunity.

If they are taken in the first round, they will get guaranteed contracts in excess of $1 million, and who would turn that down?

But there are potential pitfalls for each.

Afflalo is not a slam dunk to be drafted at all -- not even in the second and final round, where contracts are not guaranteed and projects could end up in the minor leagues.

“It was a shock to everyone when Afflalo declared himself eligible,” said Jonathan Givony, president of draftexpress.com. “He’s just not ready yet.”

As for Farmar, most experts agree that he will be, at best, the 23rd of 30 picks in the first round. That would net him around $1.6 million, which would make him rich, except for one thing.

When you are slotted that low in the first round, the fall to the second round is short and quick.

“When you’re in the 20s, you could just as easily be in the 30s,” said Mitch Kupchak, general manager of the Lakers. “And when you’re in the 30s, you’re in no-man’s land.”

Kupchak believes that unless an underclassman is a guaranteed top-14 lottery pick, the decision should be to stay in school.

“I’ve seen many good players who could have been great players if they stayed in school,” Kupchak said. “Instead, they come out early and get pushed aside.”

One such player was JaRon Rush, the promising UCLA forward who played only one full college season, turned pro in 2000, then disappeared.

Contrast him with Brandon Roy, the Washington star who would have been a second-round pick last season. He stayed in school for his senior year, and now could be a top-five pick.

“This is what I would say to any kid,” said Jeff Fellenzer, a local basketball insider who teaches a sports business and media class at USC. “Do you want use the JaRon Rush model, or the Brandon Roy model?”

Perhaps complicating the decision, particularly for Farmar, is the fear that he will not be able to show his skills in Howland’s restrictive offense.

“Some believe that if Farmar goes back to UCLA, he will not get a lot of numbers in that system, and he won’t be able to improve his standing,” Givony said.

I once wondered that myself. But having spoken to several NBA officials, I wonder no more.

Howland and his system can be tough and tedious.

But he clearly teaches. He clearly cares. His kids clearly improve, and his program is clearly going to be a continual winner.

The words echo from NBA office to sideline, from officials who have spoken countless times to Howland this spring during the coach’s quest to help Farmar and Afflalo make the right decision.

Playing for him can only make you better. Staying with him can only make you richer.

“I remember people saying the same thing about Dean Smith, about how his system inhibits players, and look at who he produced,” said Kupchak, speaking of his former coach at North Carolina. “We can evaluate players in any system. And we love players who come from a winning system.”

Farmar and Afflalo have until June 18 to decide whether they want to roll the dice, or remain in that type of system.

Farmar is not granting interviews, but Afflalo said, “I’m not leaning one way or the other. I’m just waiting for feedback from a couple of people. In the end, the decision’s going to be very easy.”

No matter what happens, April will seem long ago, and Indianapolis will be far away.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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