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Future's report

Looking at how today's NCAA stars will fare as pros

Posted: Monday March 12, 2007 2:57PM; Updated: Monday March 12, 2007 4:17PM
Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant will have some lofty expectations to meet in the NBA.

NBA commissioner David Stern has said several times that he wants to avoid the perception that college basketball is just a glorified farm system for the his league. But by establishing an age limit that requires kids to attend at least one year of college, that's exactly what NCAA hoops has become. And instead of talking about an Ohio State dynasty or the advent of the Pac-10, people are arguing about Oden versus Durant.

With the college hoops talent level inflated across the board(s), evaluating college basketball players has become a game in and of itself. For those of us like myself who are NBA junkies, the college scene is about to become must-see TV, and for the next three weeks, CBS will become an NBA GM's version of the Home Shopping Network.

I got a head start and have spent the last few weekends trying to get a read on how this year's best college players will project into the NBA.

I am not totally sold yet on Kevin Durant, which might seem like a mildly ridiculous thing to say. But for all the blogs and columnists drooling sure-fire glory over Durant, they seem to gloss over a few aspects of his game that seem troubling, such as his often-lazy defense and how he doesn't seem to make his teammates better. He's going to be a great NBA player and score a load of points, but something keeps nagging me that it's too early to annoint Durant the NBA's savior quite yet.

And for that matter, Greg Oden worries me, too. I've talked to numerous NBA people who love him, but I still haven't seen him consistently play with fire. This could perhaps be because the other players on his team refuse to pass him the ball with any regularity. When he makes the occasional outstanding play, like that follow-up dunk/rebound against/over Purdue, it seems more like the exception than the rule.

(All that said, would I draft Oden first? Absolutely. Would I draft Durant second? Definitely.)

The Jayhawks are loaded with talent, but it's hard for me to appreciate anyone on Kansas. A few years ago I went to Lawrence, Kan., to do a story on Drew Gooden after he announced he was ditching school for the NBA Draft. I spent a day with Drew walking all over the campus of KU. After swinging by Roy Williams office, Drew and I walked down some stairs and a few minutes later strolled out onto the floor at the legendary Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The gym was completely empty and silent. It was late in the afternoon and sunlight was streaming through any open aperture. I immediately understood how Midwestern families could entirely revolve around Kansas basketball.

Then Kansas brought in Bill Self after Williams moved to Chapel Hill. And while Self is an obviously gifted recruiter, I've never been enamored with his X's and O's. This is mostly because my colleague Ben witnessed an incident during a Kansas-St. Joe's game last season at Madison Square Garden that I can't get out of my head. As Ben described it, "It's an out-of-bounds play with about a minute left and KU down six. Rush, guarded, is around the elbow closest to Kansas' bench, and Self gestures to the corner 3-point area and instructs, 'Brandon! Get open around here.'"

Not exactly the triangle offense there, Coach. But it makes me wonder if maybe his guys -- like Julian Wright -- are going to have trouble adapting to structured NBA offenses.

Brandan Wright has silently played himself into the top of the lottery, should he leave school. I think he'll be a helluva pro, mainly because of his ability to play big inside and rebound the ball. And I also like the versatility of Georgetown's Jeff Green. One guy I can't get a read on is Wisconsin's Alando Tucker. I know he just became the Badgers' all-time leading scorer, but he seems like such an NBA 'tweener to me. He has to become either stronger or faster to succeed in the NBA.

This leaves us with the Florida Gators. For reasons I don't understand, nobody seems to notice that Joakim Noah might be the worst jump shooter in college basketball. It's amazing to me that an NBA team would even think about taking him in the top five, and even the top 10 seems like it might be a stretch. I think he might end up being a better defensive player in the NBA than anything else, but even then, he has to bottle up his emotion and be able to knock down 12-footers. Also, after seeing him interviewed by Bill Raftery following the SEC title game, he could probably use a little media training. Al Horford has the body of a pro, but he always seems a little stiff when I watch him. He really reminds me of Denver's Nene, although he's not as bulky as Nene.

But what I find most interesting about all this talk is that nobody is mentioning the one guy who could this entire tournament could hinge upon, a guy who literally has no NBA future, unless he can suddenly become a point guard: Florida shooting guard Lee Humphrey. He's only 6-foot-2, not particularly fast, not really a standout defender. But he can shoot the lights out. And for Florida to repeat their title run, Humphrey will have to get hot in order to spread the floor and create room for the big fellas inside.

It's guys like Humphrey who make college basketball special and different from the NBA. As much as I watch these games to see the next big things, players such as Lee Humphrey remind me that the NCAA Tournament isn't just a televised meat market, it's all about that one shining moment.

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.