But when the party is over, it’s also easy to imagine college basketball suffering through an unusually long hangover period — because the news that follows in the hours, days and weeks after the championship game figures to be unprecedented.
We’ve seen freshmen pack their bags and head for the NBA after one season. We’ve said quick goodbyes to stars we hardly knew, including Kevin Durant at Texas and Michael Beasley at Kansas State. But if John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe all leave Kentucky before their championship rings can be ordered, college basketball symbolically will feel the full impact of the so-called “one-and-done” era.
That isn’t the message college basketball wants to send.
“I don’t think it’s the best way to go about things right now, to force kids who have no interest in being in college, to come to college for a year,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “You’re seeing the consequences of that right now, in many ways.”
The Kentucky trio won’t be alone. Xavier Henry of Kansas, Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech and Avery Bradley of Texas are among other freshmen expected to leave school for the pros. College basketball, regardless of its new champion, is about to take a major hit. And with the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in 2011, it seems certain a heated debate is about to begin.
The NBA players’ union accepted the minimum-age rule in 2005, during the last collective bargaining negotiations. The rule, which went into effect in 2006, requires a non-international player to be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school before entering the draft.
The controversial change has worked to the advantage of the NBA, in terms of marketing players and scouting them. It has become a source of great disdain for college coaches.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been a leader in opposition to the rule, saying any player who is good enough should be allowed to turn pro directly out of high school. But if a player comes to college, Krzyzewski says, he should stay long enough to take the core courses that lead to a degree. The Blue Devils coach has historically resisted signing one-and-done players.
“It’s a bad rule. I think it’s a really bad rule,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “In my opinion, it makes a mockery of education in college and also I think it’s condescending on the NBA’s part. To be honest with you, I’m not sure how much the NBA cares about college basketball. They’re in the business of making the NBA the best product they can make it. I think the NBA is happy with the way their rule is. They get to market these kids for a year (before they turn pro).”
Many coaches, including Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Kansas’ Bill Self, would like to see the NBA allow players to be drafted out of high school, then force those who go to college to stay three years. That model mirrors the entry rules for Major League Baseball’s amateur draft and has been endorsed by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
For every player who is a success like Durant, the No. 2 overall pick, there’s Javaris Crittenton of Georgia Tech, who was picked No. 19 by the Lakers in 2007 and has bounced around to various teams.
Calipari, who recruited Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose at Memphis, has been labeled a renegade for his open pursuit of one-and-done players.
“What I do is recruit the best players I can and if they’re prepared after a year to go, I influence them to go,” Calipari told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. “Then you just keep reloading.”
Not every team is able to reload, however. Georgia Tech had two star freshmen in Crittenton and Thaddeus Young in 2007, but they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament and the Yellow Jackets did not return to the NCAA tourney until this season , losing in the second round to Ohio State.
“Those guys that are one and done usually help you win a lot of games,” Johnson said at the SEC tournament. “My wife likes to shop a lot, and she likes the payroll.”
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn says if the players produce the way the Kentucky players have, “then absolutely you take those guys.” The negative, Horn says, is replacing them after they are gone.
“I think that Ohio State would look back at the time that Greg Oden and Michael Conley were there and say they made a pretty good run at the Final Four,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “If you had a chance to do it again, would you do it again? You bet you would.”
There are hidden consequences. Oden, Conley and Daequan Cook were freshmen when they helped Ohio State reach the 2007 title game and then became first-round draft picks. All were in good academic standing, but Oden failed to complete the third-quarter term. Kosta Koufos did the same thing at Ohio State last year. As a result the Buckeyes saw the team’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) slip, and the NCAA took away two scholarships.
Johnson says if you take the risk “the other guys in your program need to be good students and need to be program guys, so to speak.” But that goes back to Capel’s comment on the educational impact — and it’s a well-known fact that the majority of players turning pro early do not attend classes after the NCAA tournament.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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