*College basketball has a problem, and it’s located right in the heart of the Bluegrass State.
Make no mistake, the most recent incarnation of the Wildcats was one that certainly lives up to the program’s illustrious history. Powered by consensus #1 overall pick (and owner of the world’s most awesome unibrow) Anthony Davis and fellow stars Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marcus Teague, the Wildcats tore through the tournament and won a convincing (if drama-free) final against fellow ultra-program. They weren’t just talented, they were exceptional – certainly one of the best college basketball teams we’ve seen come around in a good while. It wasn’t the quality of the game that was the problem.
The problem lies in the fact that these personalities and teams are so fleeting that it has robbed the sport of the mystique of its glory years. John Calipari, the incredibly skilled (but incredibly controversial) coach has apparently discovered a very potent, very disturbing new formula: attract the best recruits from across the country, promise them at least a title shot for their freshman year, then let them flee to the NBA after their one required year in college is up. He did it a few years ago with the DeMarcus Cousins – John Wall – Eric Bledsoe group, all freshmen who went one-and-done into the NBA; this year, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Jones and Lamb have all declared their eligibility.
Of course, these immensely talented five will be replaced by a whole new crop of recruits, including the awesomely-coiffed Nerlens Noel who will all likely give their token year to the team, go far in the tournament, and make their millions into the league.
It’s all legal, but it’s robbing the sport of a lot of the spirit it once had. The teams are so great, but the players are there and gone so quickly it’s impossible to identify them with the college sport. Jordan left early, of course, but at least he had three years at North Carolina and a game-winning shot in a championship game – you can remember him in Carolina blue. Not so with the one-and-done guys from today. For a sport so rooted in individualism, the rapid entry-and-exits of these superstars robs college basketball of much-needed buzz and public discussion. Even worse, with the success that Calipari has had, we can expect the biggest programs to start giving the same spiel to their top recruits (even Duke isn’t immune from this fleeing-freshman problem.
The easiest solution – and the one that the NBA and NCAA should agree on – is to up the time that the players have to spend in college from one to two or three years. This will give these immensely talented players time to really refine their games for the league, and also allow the programs to build up the kinds of excellent teams that go into legend – and draw the eyes of the public.