“One and done” is as synonymous now with college basketball as phrases like Final Four and March Madness.
But you don’t always see those things go together — especially last season. No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons failed to lead LSU to the NCAA tournament as a freshman. Second pick Brandon Ingram’s Duke team fell in the Sweet 16, and third pick Jaylen Brown couldn’t propel California past Hawaii in the first round.
In fact, five of the 13 freshmen who left college and got drafted this summer weren’t on NCAA tournament teams. Four of those players were on teams that failed to make the Sweet 16. Only one of those players, Cheick Diallo, was on a Final Four team, but Kansas didn’t even play him in its game.
The story lines around one-and-done players — players who spend one season in college before going pro — could change this season, with the preseason top three — Duke, Kentucky and Kansas — relying heavily on freshmen. Even Big Ten power Michigan State, a program typically led by upperclassmen, is banking on a seemingly pro-ready freshman, a season after surprisingly losing another to the NBA.
“Sometimes it’s easier when [coaches] know it before it happens — so they can recruit that way,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said about intentions of one-and-done players. “We’re not always sure.”
No. 1-ranked Duke is sure it has a special crop of freshmen, with four potential one-and-dones in Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson. If all go pro next summer, it would be the most freshmen ever drafted in a year under Mike Krzyzewski. Then Coach K would be competing with Coach Cal (John Calipari) at Kentucky for which program can be called One and Done U.
Calipari won his only NCAA title at Kentucky in 2012 behind freshman Anthony Davis. Duke is vying for its second national championship in three years; the Blue Devils’ last in 2015 came courtesy of the one-and-done trio of Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. Krzyzewski has to keep his top freshmen healthy, though. Giles (knee), Tatum (foot) and Bolden (leg) all were sidelined by injuries in the last month and are likely out for Duke’s opener.
Kentucky has reloaded with arguably Calipari’s most impressive freshman class. Yes, even better than the one that helped UK start 38-0 with current Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. The Wildcats are ranked No. 2 largely because of five-star freshmen De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
In Kentucky’s 156-63 exhibition win Sunday over Asbury, an NAIA team, the freshmen class combined for 93 points, including 25 from Fox.
“Well, every one of these guys could try to get 30,” Calipari said after the 93-point win. “You got every one of them that have that kind of ability, and they know they have to do it together.”
Kansas has more experience, but the No. 3 team also has arguably the top freshman in potential No. 1 pick Josh Jackson, an athletic 6-8 forward in the mold of former Jayhawk and current Wolves standout Andrew Wiggins. Like Wiggins, it might take Jackson time before his talent shows up consistently in big games.
Just outside the top 10, Michigan State might be able to survive the loss of national player of the year Denzel Valentine if freshman Miles Bridges lives up to the hype. Bridges, an explosive 6-7 forward, dominated with 33 points in his exhibition debut last week.
Izzo is one of the elite coaches who never had really dealt with one-and-done players. Deyonta Davis became the first Spartan to leave after his freshman year since Zach Randolph in 2001. Only five underclassmen had left Michigan State under Izzo before that, period. Izzo was just as shocked about Davis declaring as Davis was when he ended up falling out of the first round (31st overall).
“Could he have used a year for himself? Yes. He could have,” Izzo said. “He could really, really benefit in every aspect, socially and basketball-wise.”
A case could be made that the Big Ten’s other one-and-done, Maryland’s Diamond Stone, also a second-round pick (40th overall), made a mistake by leaving as well.
Two of the Big Ten’s top post players who didn’t leave after a year were Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Indiana’s Thomas Bryant. Now, they are conference player of the year candidates and their teams are league title contenders.
“I came back because I didn’t feel like my spot at the next level was solidified,” Swanigan said. “I don’t think there was a reason to rush that after my freshman year. Coming back wasn’t a terrible thing.”