Sunday, March 23, 2008

Commentary: One-and done freshmen bad idea


If freshmen are the story of college basketball this season, then it's a short story.

Indiana's Eric Gordon, Memphis' Derrick Rose, USC's O.J. Mayo, Kansas State's Michael Beasley and UCLA's Kevin Love arguably were among the 10 most popular players in the nation.

It will be an upset if any of them comes back for his sophomore year. Thanks for the short-term memories, fellas.

We're told this is good for college basketball, that getting even one year of them in a college jersey is a treat for us, that we are blessed if we can say, "I saw Mayo drop 18 on Cal Poly!" I'm not so sure anymore.

Oh, I know all the arguments for why high schoolers shouldn't be able to jump directly to the NBA. I used to make them. One year of college ball is better than none. It will make them better basketball players. Who knows, they might decide they like college. They might stay more than a year.

But none of it really is true. In almost every case, they will get better coaching in the NBA, or at least better coaching for the NBA game. Most of them would rather be listening to bluegrass music than sitting in a classroom. Even on the court, indifference oozes from Mayo.

And for us - or at least for me - the whole thing feels empty. It feels like free agency. You're watching something you know won't last. It's like keeping a wolf as a pet. The first chance it gets, it's going to escape.

Freshmen in captivity doesn't sound like much of a marketing campaign. It's like telling your 18-year-old to be in by 7 p.m. for no other reason than you can. (Hmmmm, not a bad idea.)

Is it really better this way? Most college coaches will say it is. They know if a Derrick Rose comes to their school and then goes to the NBA, other blue-chip players who have the same thing in mind won't be far behind.

In their heart of hearts, most coaches would prefer to have junior- and senior-led teams. Those teams are more coachable, and they're normally teams that play well together because of their experience together. But those coaches are well acquainted with reality, and reality says that stars help bring in more recruits.

It's why USC coach Tim Floyd signed Mayo, even though Mayo's "people" refused to give the coach Mayo's cell-phone number. That's right, Floyd had to wait for Mayo to call him.

That told me right there Mayo was ready for the NBA.

Some critics say that dropping the freshman rule would dilute college basketball. They say the game would suffer, that it wouldn't be nearly as good as it used to be, that it would lose something irretrievable.

I don't think so.

Beasley is better than North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough by miles and miles, but at least we got to know Hansbrough, a junior. Boy, did we get to know him, thanks to overzealous announcers who saw a Wagnerian opera every time they looked in his eyes. But college basketball is bigger than Beasley and Hansbrough. If they weren't there, somebody else would fill the void. They might not be as good as Beasley or Hansbrough, but it wouldn't matter.

The college game is about emotion. It's about raucous crowds and student cheering sections and long-time rivalries. It's about big-name coaches. It takes place inside a vacuum. It's great theater unto itself, regardless of who the actors are.


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