Florida, UCLA prime for repeats

Ncaa Men

College Basketball

April 05, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

INDIANAPOLIS -- UCLA coach Ben Howland gestured with his left hand to the five starters who sat alongside him at Sunday's news conference and spoke with pride - not concern - about their possible NBA talent.

"A good problem is having players that are leaving early for the NBA," Howland said the day before his team fell, 73-57, to Florida in the national championship game. "The more NBA players - we've got a number of them sitting right up here to my left - they're going to be future NBA players, without question, without a doubt. That's why we're sitting here right now, we have great players."

UCLA and Florida excelled with young talent this season, and both were teams that many said were at least a year away from playing for a national title. Should everyone on both rosters return next season instead of opting to leave school early to pursue professional careers, logic would seem to dictate they'd be even better and start the preseason atop the national rankings.

UCLA loses senior center Ryan Hollins but has McDonald's All-American James Keefe ready to fill his spot. Florida wouldn't lose any of its starters - only eighth man Adrian Moss - and has a solid incoming recruiting class.

UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar is expected to at least give the NBA some consideration, but sophomore guard Arron Afflalo already said a few weeks ago he's coming back for sure.

Florida has four sophomores with the potential to play in the NBA: Center Joakim Noah, who had six blocks in the title game, would be a sure lottery pick, followed by power forward Al Horford, small forward Corey Brewer and point guard Taurean Green.

"It's way too early to think about that," Noah said Sunday about entering the draft.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said the possibility of losing players early to the NBA has in some ways affected his recruiting philosophy.

"The complexion in college basketball has changed so much," Donovan said. "For a while there, 10 years ago, everybody talked about, if you really want to win at the college level, you have to have two or three pros on your team. I'm not so sure that's the case anymore.

"I think exactly what you're talking about, you know some of those high school kids out there that are destined for the NBA. It's hard not to have one foot in college and one foot on the NBA."

The effects are just one year removed, as Illinois and North Carolina experienced it after last year's championship. Illinois junior point guard Deron Williams turned pro. Junior shooting guard Dee Brown tried to but suffered a broken foot during the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago. The injury forced him to return to school.

UNC juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May turned pro. So did freshman power forward Marvin Williams. All four - along with Deron Williams - were chosen in the 2005 first round, and they were all among the top 14 picks.

Howland said the NBA's age restriction isn't "fair or legal."

"I think if we ask kids to go fight in Iraq for their country, they can do that at age 17 or 18, there's no reason why kids should not be able to go straight to the NBA out of high school," he said. "I'm talking about from a legal perspective only.

"I also think for the game, it's the right thing, that kids that are so focused, 16 and 17, hear about it from everybody," he said. "They lose focus of what's important, which is doing the right things in school, continuing to improve and get better as a player.

"We're always going to support our players, whatever decision they make," Howland said. "But it's got to be the right decision that's best for them. I think oftentimes kids get bad advice."

Horford already made his plans for next season.

"I think we should come back and repeat," he said after the game. "That's how I feel about that."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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