The glut of
guarantees is over. While the minimum-age rule explains the presence of
oversized freshmen, a less-noticed provision of the new CBA may be keeping
older big men on campus--even if it means turning down the chance to be a
first-round draft pick. These days players drafted in the first round receive
contracts containing just two guaranteed seasons, with the next two years at
the team's option. (Players drafted before 2005 were given three guaranteed
seasons with a team option for year four.) In other words, if you're an NBA
rookie, you'd better make an impact quickly, or you may soon be checking out
job prospects in Lithuania.
are realizing they have to be ready to play right away in the NBA," says
Florida coach Billy Donovan. "I think [Horford and Noah] felt they'd be
sitting around watching for a while." By staying another year in
Gainesville, Donovan argues, his frontcourt stars will gain even more size,
strength and experience that could help them as NBA rookies. "The big
question is, What kind of second contract are you signing?" Donovan says.
"If I'm out of the NBA in two or three years, I can't sit there and say I
don't have to work for the rest of my life."
Besides, even a
surefire first-rounder can improve. While Noah proved he could run the floor
and block shots like few college big men in years, he needs to develop a
back-to-the-basket inside game and correct an unsightly side-spinning jump
shot. While McRoberts possesses NBA-level athleticism, he'll only benefit from
his new role as Duke's first offensive option. And while Big Baby has solid
post moves and a ballet dancer's feet, he needed another year in college to
adjust to losing the extra 48 pounds that hindered him last season.
Of course, those
aren't the only reasons why big is back. Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon theorizes
that the success of the Phoenix Suns' high-speed style has reduced the NBA's
demand for traditional centers. What's more, players like Noah (whose father,
Yannick, is a tennis icon turned rock star) and Hansbrough (whose dad, Gene, is
an orthopedic surgeon) don't have to provide immediate financial stability for
their families. Nor is economics the only concern. Some players, believe it or
not, just happen to enjoy college. "The NCAA tournament was so exciting
last year," says Hansbrough. "I'd like to experience that again and see
what we can do this year."
Who knows? Next
April 2, just before midnight in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, Hansbrough or Noah or
Oden could become the fourth straight post player to lead his team to an NCAA
title. For now, at least, this much is clear: The return of the low-post
dinosaur will change the way teams play. "The ball will go inside
more," says Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "Coaches adapt to their
personnel: You emphasize what you have."
And what the game
has is the best collection of size in two decades. Presenting the 2006--07
college basketball season: The big man's back on campus.