For those of you who didn’t stay up to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game last night, let me just say I’m jealous. I could have used the extra sleep. I’m surprised the game didn’t complete put me to sleep on its own. And I say this as a big time College Basketball junkie.
I can fully admit it. The college game is seemingly getting worse and worse each year. There are fewer and fewer great teams and mediocrity seems to be order of the day. Some say the rise of the mid-majors is because the scholarship rule has been limited to 13 per school, meaning the top tier programs cant horde all of the great players. The real reason is because mid-major programs for the most part are able to keep their teams together and are Senior and Junior-laden.
Butler has made back to back Final Four appearances, a feat that is only topped by UCLA’s incredible run of titles in the sixties. Great coaching is certainly a part of it – Brad Stevens is a stud – but the main fact is that the core of the team remained. Despite losing two starters in Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley, Seniors Matt Howard, Shawn Vanzant, and Zach Hahn, Juniors Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored all were key cogs in last year’s run to to the National Title game. By comparison, last night’s winner Connecticut, brought back star Junior Kemba Walker and Sophomores Alex Oriakhi from their rotation last season. Their only Senior, Charles Okwandu, only averaged 7.7 minutes per game as a Junior.
Talent eventually wins out, the talent pool is as shallow as its ever been. There is one reason and one reason only to blame for this.
The NBA’s “one and done” rule.
For those who need enlightening, the NBA currently allows anyone who is 19 years of age and over to enter the draft, as long as their class has completed their Freshman year of college. Even before this rule was put into place in 2005, the mid 90’s changed both the college game and pro game forever.
Kids like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady were making the jump straight from High School to the pros. It used to be that even the best underclassman were staying in college at least two years before declaring “hardship.” While the success of kids like KG, Kobe, and McGrady gave others after them wide eyes that they could be the next great thing without going to college, nobody ever wanted to mention the failures.
For every LeBron James, there was James Lang. For every Dwight Howard, there was Leon Smith. Meanwhile, college basketball was losing talent and the NBA was gaining kids who weren’t ready for the league both on and off the court while veterans were losing their jobs.
Now with the “one and done” rule in effect, all of these top high school players are forced to go to college despite having little interest in being there, making sure they stay eligible after one semester of play, and then bolting for the NBA, causing many of the top programs to essentially start over year after year. Without the ability to build teams, the mid-majors are rising towards the middle, while the quality of the “BCS” conference programs moves down.
The college game suffers because there are no household names on the court anymore. The real stars are the coaches. We all remember the Christian Laettner Duke teams, the Patrick Ewing Georgetown teams, even the Fab Five (who was together for two seasons). Those days are over.
Kemba Walker will head to the NBA, as is his right to do, this summer, but his backcourt mate Jeremy Lamb, who wasn’t even on the NBA radar heading into this year, may join him. Household names in college last a year nowadays, they become folklore, and then they move on, most are forgotten. But we all remember Scottie Thurman and Corliss Williamson from the 94 and 95 Arkansas teams. Or the O’Bannon Brothers from UCLA. Or the Anderson Hunt/Larry Johnson UNLV duo.
I was five minutes into last night’s clank-fest and all I could think about was how neither of these two teams could have held the jocks of any of the Champions of the 80’s or 90’s. I love the Butler story, but you think they’d have even played within 20 points of the 1987 Syracuse team with a frontcourt of Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman and Sherman Douglas running the point?
The NBA loves size and potential, and they draft on it. If that weren’t the case, Darko Milicic wouldn’t get drafted #2 ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade
Take Kansas reserve Power Forward Thomas Robinson for example. A Sophomore who came off the bench to average seven points and six rebounds a game, Robinson is viewed as a potential mid-first round pick and may turn pro. I’ve seen every game he has played in college and while he has that “NBA body” right now, he is nowhere near ready for the league. Another year at KU to develop his offensive game as the teams #1 post option would help both the college game and the pro game. Two years from now, Robinson will be more polished and ready for the NBA, and next year college hoops will get a third year from a great kid who has the chance to become star.
Something needs to be done to save the college game. The quality of play can no longer be ignored. On its biggest stage last night, the game was as bad as its ever been. Does the NBA change the rule and let high school kids go straight to the pros and if they go to to college, they must stay for three years? Do they make the age requirement 20 instead of 19? I don’t know what will happen in this next round of NBA labor negotiations, but something needs to be done.