Top freshmen don't stay long, but they enhance the college game
Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes are among top freshmen on display in Newark
Critics have decried one-and-done rule, but it has benefitted college basketball
Most successful teams surround talented freshmen with experienced veterans
"Kids should be going to college if at least part of what they want to do is get an education. The way it's set up on these one-and-dones. ... To me, it's a sham."
-- Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy
"College basketball should be more than an extended-stay motel."
-- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
Those quotes were lifted from two of the roughly eight zillion articles written over the past five years decrying the atrocity that is the NBA's "One and Done" rule -- i.e., the requirement that players must be a year removed from high school to enter the NBA draft. Lest you haven't heard, it's an abomination, a mockery, an insidious force threatening to bring down college basketball, if not the entire American educational system.
"I don't think college basketball has benefited from [the rule]," said Krzyzewski.
Hmm. So then there must be some other reason thousands of fans are flocking this week to the not-exactly-vacation-destination of Newark, N.J., and millions more will be tuning in to Friday night's highly anticipated East Regional games there between Ohio State and Kentucky, and North Carolina and Marquette. It must have nothing to do with the presence of freshman sensations Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) and Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight (Kentucky).
According to DraftExpress.com, five of the Top 11 projected picks in June's draft (if you include ineligible Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter) can currently be found in Newark, not far from Secaucus, site of the annual lottery. David Stern could save money this year and just combine the two events.
"[Freshmen] are so much more worldly now," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. "[They're] not in awe of being in the NCAA tournament, not in awe of playing on national television. They played on national television in high school, and traveled and done those kind of things."
The NCAA tournament has long comprised two related but separate events -- the first weekend, where we celebrate Cinderella (Morehead State, VCU); and the last two, where we get down to the business of determining a national champion. Novel as it may be, Friday night's matchup between 10th seed Florida State and 11th seed VCU does not figure to draw much of a rating for TBS. As the Final Four draws closer, fans want to see brand names colliding, and two of the biggest -- the Buckeyes and Wildcats -- will do just that on CBS.
Yet neither would be in the position they are without the presence of their transcendent freshman stars, who, were this six years ago (before the NBA's age minimum age requirement), may well have skipped college altogether. In the undercard, another blue blood, North Carolina, will take on Marquette. Lest we forget, the Tar Heels are a year removed from the NIT. They wouldn't be sitting here a year later with a No. 2 seed if not for the additions of Barnes and another freshman, point guard Kendall Marshall (who's not expected to jump to the NBA this year, but you never know).
One-and-done critics contend the rule is killing college basketball. It's quite the opposite, actually. They're helping to keep it relevant.
It's not like players only started fast-tracking their pro careers in 2006. It goes back at least a decade before that, to Kevin Garnett's landmark defection straight from high school in 1995. Before that, even the most elite players stayed in college for at least two or three years. However, post-Garnett, the floodgates opened to an exodus of both high school seniors (Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Al Harrington, et. al.) and college freshmen (Cal's Shareef Abdur Rahim, Georgia Tech's Stephon Marbury, Michigan's Jamal Crawford, et. al.).
College and professional basketball are infinitely better off than they were a decade ago, when the Top 10 of the 2001 draft comprised a bunch of flameouts: high schoolers (Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, DeSagana Diop) and not-that-spectacular freshmen (Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin, Charlotte's Rodney White). In the race to get rich, a slew of naive 18- and 19-year-olds (Jonathan Bender, Donnell Harvey and Omar Cook, to name a few) destroyed their futures by prematurely entering the draft, and college basketball was deprived of a generation of potential stars.
This was the NCAA's consensus first team All-America Team in 2002: Dan Dickau, Juan Dixon, Drew Gooden, Steve Logan and Jason Williams. This is what Krzyzewski and the one-and-done crusaders would apparently like back.