As an NBA fan, I'm not as excited to watch this year's NBA draft as I've been in past years. The talent level is down. Not one yeah-he'll-be-an-all-star-in-five-years prospect. I'm sure all-stars will emerge from this crew. But it's clearly a lackluster assembly overall when compared to some of the best drafts of the last decade. Would any player in this year's draft go Top-15 in 2003? Maybe.
But as a college basketball fan and reporter, I'm pumped for Thursday's affair. I think the Madison Square Garden festivities could restore the college basketball landscape based on the players who won't be there, assuming this isn't just a direct result of a pending NBA lockout.
It all started with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, who said the NBA lockout didn't affect his decision. Last season, he repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in school. Not because he wanted to develop into the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft or because another year will help him in a specific area. He just wants to be a kid and win a crown.
“The last part of the puzzle is that he’s having fun, man,” Sullinger's father, Satch, told the New York Times in March. “He’s not running from anything.”
Fun. Crazy concept, right? Sullinger turned down millions to continue his collegiate career and have a little fun, too.
Then, North Carolina's lottery-bound brothers just said "no" to the NBA draft, too. Harrison Barnes would have been
No. 1 in this year's draft. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall would have cracked the first round.
But they're all back to pursue a national title.
There are others who've made the same decisions, such as Xavier's Tu Holloway, Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Ohio State's William Buford.
And it's a boost for next year's college basketball landscape and possibly the future of the sport.
The NBA's age limit has put talented high school players in a bad position. Those who are ready and willing to go to the next level can't. They often attend school for a year and leave for the pros.
So one-and-done isn't a trend anymore, it's the norm. The NCAA makes a lot of March Madness money by showcasing NBA-level players before they're in the NBA. The extra year also gives NBA officials time to analyze prospects. And they don't have to invest in a feeder system because college basketball takes care of that.
Sullinger and the other players who turned down this year's NBA draft, however, took a slice a power from the NBA and NCAA. They're proving that it's OK to squash the status quo.
I think every 18-year-old prospect deserves the right to enter the NBA draft. Right now, however, they don't have that option.
But they can choose to make an NCAA championship, not NBA glory, their top priority. These guys are coming back to win championships. The NBA will still be there when they decide to leave school.
Players should leave college whenever they believe they're ready. But what's wrong with having some fun and going after the top honor in the game during their stay, even if that demands more than a year? Nothing.
Perhaps the decisions made by some of college basketball's top players to forgo Thursday's NBA draft will start a new trend and we'll see more of the high-level, fiery basketball that defined the game before the one-and-done generation emerged.
-Some of the Gophers men's basketball program's top players are traveling to various camps to become more complete players this summer. Ralph Sampson III is working out with Tim Grover, Michael Jordan's trainer, at Attack Athletics in Chicago. Trevor Mbakwe begins a weekend stint at Amare Stoudemire's skills camp in Chicago Thursday. And Rodney Williams will attend LeBron James' Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, next month.