This is a look back at an article I wrote on my blog page on FoxSports.com in May of 2006. This was on the eve of how the rule changing the NBA draft eligible age to 19.
The return to the importance of upper class leadership has been a constant thread to successful runs in the NCAA Tournament recently. This year seemed to spawn a return to star laden teams full of freshman and sophomores leading their teams deep into March.
National Champion Florida started four sophomores and a junior, runner-up UCLA featured the star studded sophomore backcourt of Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar and key freshmen Luc-Richard Mbah-a-Moute, Alfred Aboya, Darren Collison and Michael Roll.
With the NBA instituting a 19 year old age limit on early entrees, underclass laden teams making deep runs into March should continue. The increasing exodus of High School stars to the NBA has given mid-majors the majority of senior laden teams in recent years. George Mason’s run to the Final Four should not have shocked people as much as it did.
Mid-Major success has been brewing on the national level for a few years. Most of the college basketball community considers Gonzaga a major program in a mid-major conference.
Bucknell won its opening round game for the second consecutive year. Bradley and Wichita State’s advancement to the Sweet 16 gave the Missouri Valley more teams through to the second weekend than the Big Ten and Big XII and as many as the ACC, Pac-10 and SEC.
Only the 16 team Big East had more teams win two games in the tournament this year. The continued success of Mid-Major teams with senior leadership will become more difficult with the NBA’s age limit. Stars that would have gone straight to the NBA over the last ten years will now have head to college for at least a year.
The biggest impact will occur with players that would have jumped straight to the NBA from high school. Eight of the top 15 ranked players in the class of 2005 entered the draft. None of those players made an immediate impact with their NBA teams.
The vast majority of high school players that have entered the NBA draft have had less than memorable NBA careers. If they had chosen to attend college, many would have probably become legends at their schools.
In one season, Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to its only national championship. The impact of these players can alter history. Amir Johnson might have elevated Louisville from the NIT Final Four to an NCAA Tournament team. Johnson scored only 20 points in three games with the Pistons and spent a large part of the season in the D-League. CJ Miles presence in Austin could have meant the difference between the Elite Eight and the Final Four for Rick Barnes. Miles spent the season averaging 3.4 points in 23 games for the Utah Jazz who failed to make the playoffs.
The Prep class of 2006 would have included sure fire lottery picks and many other players that could have anticipated the instant riches of the NBA. Greg Oden would have been a mortal lock as the NBA’s first overall pick.
Instead of suiting up as a Raptor next season, Oden is the jewel of the Ohio State class being hailed as the second coming of the Fab Five. Kevin Durant (Texas), Tywon Lawson (North Carolina) Thaddeus Young (Georgia Tech) and Spencer Hawes (Washington) are additional freshman-to-be worth watching who might have entered the 2006 draft sans age limit restrictions.
2006-07 could prove to be a special season in college basketball with the influx of talent that doesn’t have the option to spurn college matriculation for NBA millions. Next season will be a bridge year.
The amount of talent in college basketball will be the most since the Timberwolves picked Kevin Garnett from Farragut Academy in Chicago with the fifth pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. After next season, the amount of star freshman in the NBA draft will be akin to the amount of prepsters from recent drafts.
The surplus talent influx from high school, combined with the amount of young talent returning should provide for an eagerly anticipated season.
Florida and UCLA should return to the championship chase next season. Florida returns all five starters from its first national championship. The Gators have the best chance of repeating since Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill led Duke to back to back titles in 1992-93.
Joakim Noah has a chance to be a top five pick in the 2007 draft, Al Horford might play himself into a first round pick and Taurean Green should become of the nation’s best point guards.
UCLA will be a dominant team next season, even if their talented backcourt of Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar decide to stay in the draft. Neither player has signed with an agent. Indications are that Farmar is going to leave and Afflalo will return.
Even if they both decide to leave, a backcourt of Darren Collison and Michael Roll would still be one of the best the nationally. Collison is one of the fastest players in college basketball and Roll, one of its deadliest shooters.
A frontline of Aboya, Mbah-a-Moute and the return of forward Josh Shipp from injury will also give UCLA one of the most competitive frontlines in country. Whatever UCLA’s starting lineup is for 2006-07, the Bruins should be a serious contender for the national title for the second consecutive year.
History will tell us if Oden and company can do for Ohio State what the Fab Five did for Michigan. The flight of prep stars to the NBA over the last 11 seasons had a major impact on the talent level in college basketball. That exodus greatly reduced the gap between the major conferences and the mid majors.
Mid-majors were able to utilize their strengths better. More senior leadership, a higher level of team play and greater stability seemed to narrow the gap. With the Greg Odens of the world now having almost no choice but attend college, the big name schools will have a greater opportunity to reassert their dominance.
Many players will stay longer than the required year, some will realize they are not ready for the NBA and others might embrace the college lifestyle and want to stay longer.
The rule should be a boon to college basketball, the NBA and players entering college. The NBA will have more polished, fundamentally sound players and college basketball will see a rise in talent.
The players will be able to spend at least a year in college working on their weaknesses and improving their strengths playing at basketball’s second highest level .
The year in college will give the players a chance to develop into marquee names, improving their marketability. By the time they reach the NBA, players should be more prepared to compete.
The majority of prepsters that went straight from high school to the NBA sat on the bench for as many as three years before getting a chance at quality minutes. NBA teams will now have a greater body of work to evaluate the players they draft.
The past 11 years, teams had to guess on potential. The new rule should benefit college basketball, the NBA and the players themselves
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