|1-and-done is better than none|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 13 April 2007 04:17|
Durant had to lean down at the lectern to reach the microphone, and at the end of a short, gracious acceptance speech, he flashed an uncertain smile at the front row. There, his parents and grandmother sat and beamed back. He still looked like an 18-year-old kid to everybody present, but he was about to become a $40 million man with a lot more to worry about than his grades. It was a bittersweet moment.
We no longer debate whether youngsters as talented as Durant and Ohio State's Greg Oden should leave school early - no matter how reluctant either might have been - only in what order they're likely to get drafted by the NBA. Even so, the fact that they even wrestled with the decision is a sign of progress. We'll get to why in a moment.
Durant declared himself available Tuesday and while Oden was coy about his own plans at the Buckeyes' pep rally Wednesday night, he has only until April 29 to decide. Mike Conley Sr., who recently registered as an NBA agent and says he will represent Oden - as well as his own son, Mike Conley Jr., another Ohio State freshman who might turn pro - did not return a call Thursday. But it's hard to imagine Oden saying no.
Whether he gets picked first in the June draft, ahead of Durant, or just behind him at No. 2, there will be one contract worth close to $20 million over four years awaiting his signature the second after he shakes NBA commissioner David Stern's hand. A sneaker deal similar to the one Nike reportedly gave Durant would double the dare. Then there's the cautionary tale of Joakim Noah to consider.
Noah returned to Florida for his junior year along with teammates Al Horford and Corey Brewer to defend the Gators' first national title. He wound up playing against Oden in the championship game, won it, and then found out NBA scouts wished he had declared for the draft a season earlier. Noah didn't get a bill for his third year at school - he was on full scholarship - but the decision likely cost him a few million.
So, is one-and-done any better than players jumping straight to the pros from high school?
When Stern won a small concession from the players' union in July 2005, and effectively pushed the league's age minimum to 19 and a year out of high school, it was easy to be cynical about the answer. The decision was still being balanced on the backs of the kids and the league was going to win, either way. It was still assured of a steady supply of talent, and whether a season on campus made those kids more mature was up to them. On that admittedly slim evidence, it's been a win-win proposition.
Coming up with an age-minimum has been a headache for all of pro sports, but it has fallen disproportionately to Stern and the NBA to come up with a remedy. Unlike the NFL, a handful of players could make the jump from high school to Stern's league, and unlike MLB, few were good enough early enough to dominate the headlines.
But Stern fought to force his future employees to do one season in college, anyway. Asked about that decision the other night, he took full credit for what looks to be a shrewd business decision. Stern claimed he didn't have Oden or Durant in mind when he lowered the age-minimum, but he wasn't cursing his good luck, either.
``We are going to have a lot of the attention and the hype ... because there are going to be a lot of good players in this draft and a lot of them are going to be very tall,'' Stern said. ``So we've got a lot of teams thinking that they've got a selection to make that's going to be that decade-long choice.''
The flip side is that NCAA coaches and the kids they were recruiting benefited, too. They got a breather, knowing they were locked up for at least one season together, and there was even a ripple effect. A few of the best sophomores stuck around as well - besides the Florida trio, UCLA's Aaron Afflalo returned for one more year. College basketball was a better game for the added depth.
The downside is that Noah and the next young man who becomes the model for the stay-in-school crowd might have regrets. But just like Noah, Durant and Oden demonstrated, at the very least, that they learned enough during their season on campus to make an informed choice. And at a time when child actors, gymnasts, skaters and others are being rushed to the stage at breakneck speed, you can't ask for more than that.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org