Love is looking elsewhere
You might think of them as mercenaries, arriving with all the right intentions, all the right words, only to leave before you really get to know them, before they really grow. This morning, UCLA freshman Kevin Love became the latest college basketball “rookie” to announce he was leaving academia for NBA-demia.
In the weeks since the end of March Madness, fellow frosh Michael Beasley (Kansas State), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Eric Gordon (Indiana) and O.J. Mayo (USC) are the most heralded among as many as a dozen freshman who have declared their intention to leave school for pro ball.
This flood was precipitated by the 19-year-old age minimum imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern and the league’s players’ union that is slated to exist until 2010-11. Just recently, Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand expressed a desire to raise the minimum to 20 years old – closer to college football’s three-year requirement.
I’ve long expressed the belief that if a young man is old enough to place his life on the line for his country, he’s old enough to go man-a-mano under the boards against Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard (who leapt straight to the NBA from high school just prior to the new rule). That said I don’t see the one-year rule as a hardship – for the player or the game.
For every Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, who successfully makes the leap from prep to pro, there are numerous Omar Cooks, who overestimate their skills and never play a moment in the NBA; or even Sebastian Telfairs, guys who merely play but who don’t appear to improve enough to anything more than role players, if that.
Attending college for at least a year can never be bad – whether or not the young man ever becomes a true scholar. Scholarship, alas, isn’t for everyone.
On the court the year on campus allows young studs to own the spotlight rather than fight for minutes or struggle (at least for a bit) against players who are physically stronger and savvier in the ways of the game. Beasley, Rose and Love all lived up to their billing this season, the latter two leading their respective teams to the Final Four. They came, they shined and they conquered. Now, time to go.
College basketball gained, as well. As with Kevin Durant and Greg Oden the prior season, national interest in college hoops was largely driven by interest in its young stars. Sure college sports benefits from the indigenous fans who root for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. But when it comes to attracting new fans and those with no particular affinity, the stars are the thing.
Their presence gave college hoops its juice (the good kind) this season, as will another wave of younguns next season. They will draw the kind of spotlight that will also touch some of their less-heralded (older) teammates. They will boost ratings, and allow coaches like Bill Self of Kansas to get rich.
So why shouldn’t they?
One thing is clear: Winning a national title isn’t what it used to be – at least to the players. Otherwise many of these talented frosh would return to even more talented squads and chase the ring again.
That is, if they weren’t chasing the golden ring instead.