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Big is Back
Written by Grant Wahl
November 20, 2006
After a decade in which the game grew smaller, faster and more guard-oriented, new rules and shifting priorities have revived a species on the verge of extinction: the low-post dinosaur
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November 20, 2006

Big Is Back

After a decade in which the game grew smaller, faster and more guard-oriented, new rules and shifting priorities have revived a species on the verge of extinction: the low-post dinosaur

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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.

"These kids 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.

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