Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Top players run fast break to NBA, leaving concept of NCAA dynasty behind

College Basketball Preview

November 05, 2007|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

Forget Dick Vitale's invention of the current college basketball vernacular. Long before he screamed at us about the virtues of the latest and greatest Blue Devils - something he will inevitably do this season - one word was used more than any other.

That word - dynasty - might now be extinct, even for Dickie V.

In what has become a here-today-playing-in-the-NBA-tomorrow kind of world, the shelf life for those remaining at or near the top of the college basketball food chain has shriveled dramatically. Just look at the two teams that played for last season's national championship.

Florida became the first school since Duke (in 1991-92) to win back-to-back national titles, then had juniors Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, selected in the first nine picks of the NBA draft. Another, Taurean Green, went in the second round. Ohio State freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook all were first-round draft picks.

"As far as our system goes, you say, `We might have to play a little different each year now,' " Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said last week. "We've been saying we are going to be really young this year. Guess what? We're going to be really young next year. It's getting harder and harder to really build something."

Matta is not alone. Jay Bilas, who was a senior on the 1986 Duke team that started a run of seven Final Four appearances in nine seasons for the Blue Devils, said recently that Florida's mini-dynasty might not be repeated often, if again, under the current structure that allows college players to turn pro after their freshman year.

"The idea of getting a core group to stay for a period of years is hard to fathom right now," said Bilas, one of college basketball's most respected analysts. "It's hard to fathom that you will be able to absorb them leaving with recruiting. Kids don't want to wait."

Or stay too long. At least half of next year's projected NBA lottery is expected to come out of this season's celebrated freshman class, including O.J. Mayo at Southern California, Kevin Love at UCLA, Eric Gordon at Indiana and Derrick Rose at Memphis.

They are representative of today's high school basketball star who is thinking about his first Nike ad rather than his first national championship. Players whose team lost in the NCAA title game used to come back for another try even if the NBA was courting them. Not anymore.

"They're packaged, they're savvy, they're looking at way more than where will I fit in, where will I be comfortable, who will I really like and all that stuff," Bilas said.

In looking at this season, the two other teams that reached last season's Final Four are somewhat unusual in that each retained most of it core. As a result, UCLA and Georgetown are among a short list of preseason favorites to reach this year's Final Four in San Antonio.

The one-year window for many of the game's new stars has made everyone's job harder - from coaches trying to build their programs, to fans hoping their teams continue to win, to prognosticators trying to predict what will transpire.

"It's like watching a comet fly by," Bilas said.

The days of players building their resumes over four years ended a long time ago, and the NBA's decision to require players to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school led to one-season phenoms such as Oden and Kevin Durant, who stayed briefly at Texas before being selected right behind Oden in this year's draft.

While the decision by four of the Florida players to remain in Gainesville after winning the championship as sophomores led to a repeat title for the Gators, the uncertainty of whether they would stay ultimately hurt coach Billy Donovan's recruiting. Donovan's own flirtation with the NBA's Orlando Magic didn't help, either.

The Gators will go into the season with only nine players on scholarship with eight of those being either freshmen or sophomores.

"There's a limit to what we can do," Florida associate head coach Larry Shyatt, a former head coach at Clemson and Wyoming, said recently.

Shyatt, who played a key role in Florida's run, does not believe the Gators, because of their inexperience and lack of numbers, will be viewed as some sort of underdog when the season begins.

"That's not happening," Shyatt said. "We're still going to be written about, talked about, the threepeat, the back-to-backs. We're not wearing shirts [that say threepeat]."

Matta can certainly relate to what Donovan is going through. The Buckeyes lost four starters, most notably Oden (who will miss his rookie season in the NBA after microfracture knee surgery), Cook and Conley. Not that Matta was totally shocked when they decided to leave.

"We had a really good feeling that Greg and Daequan were going to go, but we never thought Michael would after his freshman year," Matta said last week.

It has put a premium on almost constant recruiting.

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