There’s a reason old men love women’s college basketball, and it has nothing to do their aging, Viagara-inspired hormones. Instead, it has everything to do with the women picking up all the prehistoric fundamentals and values the men once left on the sideline like hitchhikers on a fast-break highway.
Layups instead of dunks. Two-handed, midrange, set shots instead of 35-foot, fade-away 3-pointers. And most importantly, bookending, academia-enhancing four-year college careers instead of an extended, military-style, seven-month NBA predraft camps.
We are living in the one and done era of men’s college basketball in which college is nothing more than a gateway drug on the road to multimillion dollar addiction. For the richest of the goldmine, it always goes something like this: The best players attend their college of choice, play right away, compete for a national title (and most likely fall short) and then turn rags into riches with the latest lottery-bound NBA loser.
Welcome to Calipariville, kids.
But while college die-hards disagree with Calipari and hate him for the same reason, there’s no denying that, since its institution by David Stern in 2007, the age limit has reinvigorated the college game like no development since the three-pointer. For almost a generation, beginning with Kevin Garnett’s repopularization of the “straight to the pros” dynamic in 1994, we were deprived of seeing the best players in their purest collegiate form.
Imagine how blood boiling it would have been to root against the unbeatable Kobe Bryant-Mike Krzyzewski tandem at Duke. Imagine how exciting it would have been to see LeBron James chucking up alley-oop lobs to Greg Oden at Ohio State. Imagine how imposing Dwight Howard would have looked next to Sean May in the North Carolina frontcourt.
Instead, we were subjected to a watered-down landscape that showcased shooting specialists such as J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison as the best the college game had to offer.
In the last five years, the viewing privilege has reverted back to its pre-Garnett course. Sure, it’s a minor dose compared to the four-year female stars such as Candace Parker and Maya Moore. But as evidenced by the decisions a year ago of stars such as Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, maybe, just maybe, the age limit is convincing its not-so-shallow casualties that money can’t buy growth and happiness after all.
They’re still the exceptions, of course, not yet the rule. Five years into its budding existence, let’s name the first and second teams of the rip-roaring, high-flying one and done era.
The fastest collegiate player since Allen Iverson and the most electrifying point guard since Magic Johnson, Wall gets the slight nod here over fellow Calipari alum Derrick Rose.
Few players in recent memory have commanded such a cult following. Some fans were attracted to Wall because of the goofy and hilarious, song-inspiring “John Wall Dance.” Others because he ran a fast-break offense that made the “Showtime Lakers” look like the Flint Tropics.
Either way, when John Wall was playing, America was watching.
The Calipari assembly line continues with the best scoring guard of his one-and-done prospects.
Evans actually played more point guard than shooting guard during his lone season at Memphis, but he averaged over 17 points per game and was the clear-cut first option in the Tigers’ dribble-drive attack.
When you consider the dearth of one and done shooting guards compared to the other positions, it makes sense to slide a score-first player back to his more natural position.
I know, I know. Anthony played for Syracuse in 2002-03, four seasons before the age limit was even introduced. But he has to be on this team simply for setting the gold standard by which all subsequent one and done megastars are measured.
There may be a few other freshmen sensations who had better seasons than Anthony, including the next guy on this list.
But none of them led their program to a national title. Melo is still the only frosh to ever accomplish that almost impossible feat.
As the first season after the age limit was introduced, the 2006-07 campaign will forever be known as the Year of the Freshman in college basketball.
No rookie shined brighter than Durant, who foreshadowed future professional stardom with one of the greatest individual seasons in collegiate history.
He averaged more points than any other freshman in history (25.8) up to that point. He was also the first freshman to win both the Naismith and John R. Wooden awards as the best player in the country.
To quote Steve Kerr, Oden truly was a “once in a decade player” for the manner in which he reintroduced the once and future collegiate strategy of winning around a dominant big man.
While he may be more Kurt Thomas than Patrick Ewing in the pros, Oden was like King Kong in a puppy shelter in the Big 10.
If he hadn’t run into a once-in-a-generation Florida team in the 2007 final, the Indiana prep legend would have stood right next to Anthony as the only baby boomers to lead their teams to a title.
Sequels are never as good as the original. Which is probably why the hype train didn’t quite catch on with Beasley in 2007-08 as fast as it did with Kevin Durant the year before.
But make no mistake, B-Easy was just as good if not better.
He broke Durant’s freshman scoring record (26.2 to 25.8) and averaged more than a full rebound more per contest. He also broke 17 Big 12 records and led Kansas State to its first NCAA tournament victory since 1988.
After joining a team fresh off back-to-back Elite Eight losses in 2006 and 2007, Rose elevated the Tigers to the brink of a national championship in 2008.
And then he took it away by missing free throws.
For that reason, the Tigers are the best one and done era team to fall short of a championship. But they never would have gotten that far if it wasn’t for Rose, who kick-started the new generation of ball-dominating point guards.
Gordon’s college season was a classic case of being at the wrong school at the wrong time.
While Indiana hadn’t quite descended into college basketball purgatory just yet during that 2006-07 campaign, it was on the fast track under corrupt program-destroyer Kelvin Sampson.
That didn’t stop Gordon from enjoying the most prolific freshman season in school history. The Big 10 Freshman of the Year led the conference in scoring (20.9 ppg) and was a third-team All-American in a talent-plush season.
At a lanky 6’10”, Wright is oversized for a small forward. But it’s impossible to leave him, or the next two guys, off this list, and the versatile Wright is the most ideal candidate to bite the bullet.
At North Carolina, Wright’s ability to finish around the rim (64.6 field-goal percentage) and block shots drew comparisons to a young Kevin Garnett.
If he wasn’t perpetually overshadowed by a slew of high-profile teammates (future Tar Heels title cornerstones Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson) and his two more prominent Year of the Freshman classmates (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant), it would be easier to remember just how good Wright was at the college level.
Just like Durant, Kevin Love the college player was merely a younger carbon prequel to Kevin Love the professional.
He averaged over 17 points and 10 rebounds during his lone season at UCLA and racked up a freshman record 23 double-doubles.
Love’s flick-of-the-wrist outlet passes made him a YouTube phenomenon.
John Wall was the best player on that famed 2009-10 Kentucky team. But Cousins may have been the most valuable.
In the Wildcats' Elite Eight loss to West Virginia, Cousins took just two shots in the first half as the Mountaineers jumped out to an early lead.
He then scored 15 in the second half to power a frantic Wildcats comeback that ultimately fell short. Kentucky should have never waited so long to make Cousins the focal point on a night when it shot a putrid 4-32 from beyond the arc.
Another ’06-07 gem, Conley gets the nod over former Arizona star Jerryd Bayless because of his better all-around floor game and leadership on a freshman-laden Buckeyes squad.
Greg Oden was the best player on that Ohio State team.
But Conley was the emotional leader who kept the Buckeyes grounded through a slew of close NCAA tourney calls (overtime against Xavier in the second round and a 17-point halftime deficit against Tennessee in the Sweet 16).
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