Certainly it is ridiculous to posit that every basketball player should go to college and stay four years. Garnett probably did the right thing by coming out early—he is a splendid 6'11" talent, and anyway, he had little chance of qualifying academically. The same may not be true for Jermaine O'Neal of Eau Claire High in Columbia, S.C., the other high school player besides Bryant who has opted for this year's draft. Like Garnett, O'Neal is not academically inclined, but he may not have Garnett's prodigious ability. (As yet no one has taken the apocalyptic step about which Stanford's Montgomery was musing last week: a player giving up his senior year of high school to declare.) But colleges had better take a long, hard look at players like Marbury, who see college as nothing more than a brief minor league stop.
Consider the remarks of UNLV coach Bill Bayno on Marbury's departure. "It was certainly worth it [to Georgia Tech] to take Marbury," says Bayno. "They knew it was a risk that he would leave after a year, but they benefited from it and went to the Sweet 16. Had they not taken him, maybe that wouldn't have happened."
But in what way was it worth it? What does it say about Georgia Tech as an institution? Is whatever Tech gained from reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament worth the tradeoff it made, knowing that Marbury never intended to get an education and wanted only to use the school as a one-stop showcase for his game? This is not to single out Georgia Tech. Tim Thomas of Paterson (N.J.) Catholic, perhaps the most talented player in this year's high school senior class, has made no secret of the fact that if he is projected as a top-five pick after his freshman season, he intends to leave his trade school of choice, Villanova.
The sad truth is that one-year plans aren't even news anymore. And while there are coaches, such as Georgetown's Thompson, who can talk about education and not sound like complete hypocrites, there are few, if any, who will turn down a player even if he's almost certain to leave early. "All of the coaches I've talked to told me they have no problem with having me for one or two years," says Corey Benjamin, a blue-chip 6'6" forward at Fontana (Calif.) High, who has not yet qualified academically but who has verbally committed to Oregon State. Indeed, Missouri coach Norm Stewart says, "You still have to recruit the kid who might not stay."
That's what the pressure of winning has done. The charm of the college game once lay in watching players and teams develop over the course of three or four years. But if the game's version of Exodus continues, that charm may disappear forever.
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