I have been watching basketball my entire life, and over the last ten years the college game has changed significantly – not in the way the game is played, but in how programs are structured. If you look at the top programs in the nation today, many of them are built around the notorious “one-and-done” player. Schools like Ohio State, Kentucky, and Texas are all basketball powerhouses, and they consistently win with the top talent college basketball has to offer. Every year, we see multiple five-star recruits go to these schools, and inevitably the question comes up:
How is there enough playing time to go around for all of these players?
Coaches such as John Calipari recruits and hands out scholarships as if his roster is depleted and in need of players every season. He gets two or three of the best high school players in the country and then turns around and does it again the next year. Obviously, everybody expects those players to bolt for the NBA after one season on campus. Most of the top draft picks over the last decade have been “one-and-dones” like Derrick Rose, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Camelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Greg Oden.Yet, this summer we have begun to see a change of heart for many of these top prospects.
And for college basketball fans, we couldn’t be happier.
When I heard that both Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger were returning to school for their sophomore seasons I was both shocked and impressed. Both would have been top-10 picks in June’s NBA draft, but they chose to return to school along with teammates who could have turned pro, as well. These were arguably the two top high school recruits from the class of 2010, and now they are going to be in college for a second year – something incredibly rare these days. But I think it is great for college basketball and the excitement that they will bring to the game in the fall.
Looking back at this past year’s NCAA tournament, excitement was a great word to describe each day. For the second year in a row, mid-major teams made noise every round, and Butler returned to the championship game. There was not much star power in the tournament, and the lesser known teams held their own. That is the essence of college basketball.
Next year, I expect more of the same. North Carolina will be the favorite, with three players returning that all could have left for the NBA. But there will continue to be Cinderella stories that push those stars to the limit and, in some cases, end their seasons prematurely. If all of these stars had bolted for the League, the upsets would not be really that surprising. I wasn’t surprised at all when Morehead State beat Louisville in the first round of the tournament because Morehead State, the definition of a mid-major, was a senior-laden team with experience and poise. On the other hand, the Cardinals were mostly underclassmen that were raw and undisciplined. Next year, those big-time programs are going to have more talent and the mid-majors will be seemingly over-matched. But we all know that there will still be upsets, and any one of those powerhouses could fall at any time. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The star power that returns next year is something that will bring an immense amount of excitement back to the college game and hopefully more fans, as well. As one who loves basketball, I think it’s great that these players are coming back, and I believe that if this trend continues, the college game will be back on top of the sports world.