By Anthony Olivieri
Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad will be taking their talents somewhere on Wednesday night. For the sake of college basketball, I hope it’s not Kentucky.
I know Big Blue Nation, fresh off a national championship, doesn’t want to hear that. UK fans want their team to reload and reel off another title with a different group of players next season.
But the madness needs to stop before it ruins the Madness.
That’s right, college basketball hinges on the decisions of players like Noel and Muhammad, the top two recruits for the Class of 2012 who will announce their college landing spots live on ESPNU on Wednesday night.
While LeBron James has been universally panned for “The Decision” in the summer of 2010, it’s clear that Muhammad and Noel – and other recruits like them in the coming years – can have a much larger effect on the college game than James’ move has had on the NBA landscape.
Sure, James is the best player in the pro game and teaming with the dynamic Dwyane Wade and incredible third banana Chris Bosh ensures that the Heat will be title contenders for as long as the three are in Miami.
But contrary to popular belief at the time, James, Wade and Bosh haven’t ruined the pro game by making Miami a championship conglomerate that “The King” said would win “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” times – but more.
I believe that titles for the trio are inevitable, but they won’t be handed to Miami, which will have to go over a host of hurdles. Kentucky, on the other hand, can have it as easy as it was in March on an annual basis.
Does anyone really want to see the Wildcats cruise to titles every spring on the strength of pure numbers? As in – we have way more star players than you.
Sure, coach John Calipari deserves credit for getting the 2011-12 version of Kentucky to play hard and together consistently. But let’s be honest: Replacing five-star players with the next year’s five-star recruits is 90% of the battle in college basketball, which is a totally different world than the NBA in which there is a salary cap and everyone on every team is really, really good. Yes, there is much parity on the college hardwood, but that’s largely because players realized that they can land on the March stage whether they are at UCLA or VCU.
Kentucky, though, has set a precedent for young studs coming out of high school; the genius of Calipari is in how he has made Lexington a place at which top recruits feel they must go if they want to realize their NBA dreams.
In reality, Noel and Muhammad could go anywhere in the country and still be lottery picks in the 2013 NBA draft. That’s why I hope they do the college game a favor and spread out, play against each other and make March a little more competitive than it was this year.
College hoops already has the one-and-done rule refreshing its rosters on an annual basis, which stunts the growth of some teams and prevents a familiarity of the game’s fans with its players.
If all the game’s high school stars continue to huddle together in Lexington, that will take something else from March: It’s unpredictability.
Granted, NCAA tournaments to come will have their Lehighs and Norfolk States, but they also will have Kentucky hoisting the hardware more times than not for as long as Calipari decides to stay at UK.
This is not to condemn Kentucky; I would hold the same opinion if any of the game’s blue bloods had a monopoly on talent. And it’s not to put down Calipari, who is doing well to play by the rules that have been handed to him.
Those rules are a large part of the problem. Not to sound like Bob Knight, but the one-and-done is a disgrace for many reasons, including for the message that it sends to young prep stars like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and now Noel and Muhammad.
They no longer have a decision when they make their decisions. They know that they will be in school for just one year, so why not go to Kentucky, become gods in a basketball-mad state, play with fellow blue-chippers like it’s a season-long McDonald’s All-American game and more likely than not land in the Final Four?
If Noel and Muhammad team up at UK for a national title next season, I can see the next round of super recruits like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew and Aaron Harrison heading to Lexington next year and Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh and Dakari Johnson doing the same the year after, turning the Wildcats in college basketball’s version of the Miami Heat with a cast of new super freshmen each year for “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” titles under Coach Cal.
That’s why I believe Kentucky’s one-and-done studs eventually will force the hand of NBA commissioner David Stern, who already has said that he would like to see players three years removed from their high school graduation before being allowed to enter the draft.
Stern knows that it’s conceivable Calipari will send bunches of first- and second-year players into the draft every year, littering it with less-experienced players who may not be as ready to handle the next level as Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist appear to be.
The commish, with a recent collective bargaining session that nearly canceled this NBA season in mind, isn’t ready to concede anything to NBA players in return if the age limit is amended.
So with the current rules here to stay for the time being, let’s hope that Muhammad picks UCLA, Noel selects Syracuse, both thrive in the college game to ready for the next level and the madness returns to March. That will send a message to the young lads of the land.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
It doesn’t have to be with the ‘Cats.
Anthony Olivieri is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each Wednesday.