Bucking the trend of the last decade, many of the top prospects in college basketball—from Baylor's Perry Jones to UNC's John Henson and Tyler Zeller and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger—are staying in school, figuring that if a good part of the upcoming season is lost, they won't be getting paychecks or developing their game.
The resulting talent exodus has many fearing that the 2011 Draft will be repeat of the 2000 debacle, which had Kenyon Martin as the No.1 pick, Mike Miller as the Rookie of the Year and didn't produce a single consistent All-Star.
But the difference from a decade ago is the increasingly global nature of basketball. Ten years ago, international players were still proving themselves in the NBA, now guys who never played in college have been an MVP (Dirk), an NBA Finals MVP (Tony Parker), a Sixth Man of the Year (Manu and Leandro Barbosa) and Rookie of the Year (Pau Gasol). The US finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships, and got bronze in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.
For years, it's been clear that the best non-NBA basketball in the world occurs in Europe, particularly in the Spanish ACB league and the Euroleague Tournament, which features the best club teams throughout the continent. If NCAA fans doubt this, they can just re-watch the ghastly offensive "showing" Butler and UConn put on in the Final Four a weeks ago.
** European professional sports are very similar to American colleges. Just as Texas and OU traditionally dominate Big 12 football, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the class of the ACB. The best schools from the biggest conference (the Big 12, the SEC and the Pac-10) then play in a post-season tournament (the BCS) to determine the best team in the US, a continent-sized country, while the best clubs from the best domestic leagues (the Spanish ACB, the Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga) compete to see who the best club in Europe is.
And just as schools like Baylor don't seriously expect to win the BCS title but aim to compete in bowls, the mid-level teams in the Premier League try to win tournaments like the UEFA Cup. Many Americans would scoff at the lack of parity in these leagues, but you'd never see a European team black-mailing their city for a publicly-financed stadium, just as Texas football couldn't threaten Austin with a move to Dallas or Houston. **
The teams in the Euroleague's Final Four, set to tip off in Barcelona in early May, would easily defeat Butler, UConn, Kentucky and VCU. Not only are the players grown men in the prime of their athletic careers, but many are names familiar to American basketball fans.
Siena features former college standouts Bo McCalebb (UNO) and Malik Hairston (Oregon) and NBA player Marko Jaric. Panathinaikos has Nick Calathes (Florida), Drew Nicholas (Maryland) and Romain Sato (Xavier). Maccabi Tel-Aviv has Richard Hendrix (Alabama), Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga) and Sofoklis "Baby Shaq" Schortsanitis. Real Madrid has former NBA player Sergio Rodriguez, Houston Rockets draft pick Sergio Llull as well as Nikola Mirotic, the 20-year-old break out star of European basketball.
Mirotic is one of the stand-outs of a new generation of international basketball players who've grown up in the post Dream Team world and don't have any real fear of their American counterparts. As many as six could go in the top half of the 2011 Draft. The lockout, while bad for college players, could be a huge boon for the internationals—a higher slot would give them more money to buy-out their contracts with their clubs, and they can always stay overseas if the NBA's season looks to be in jeopardy.