Kentucky coach John Calipari always has stressed cherishing the moment, and what a moment it could be for his team and its legion of rabid fans with the Wildcats among the favorites to win the NCAA championship.
But college basketball fans everywhere ought to revel in the present.
The future may not be quite as bright.
Some of the game's best players might be leaving for the NBA not long after a champion is crowned April 5 in Indianapolis as so-called "one-and-dones," a lineup of freshmen including Kansas guard Xavier Henry, Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors, Texas guard Avery Bradley and the Wildcats' stellar tandem of forward DeMarcus Cousins and point guard John Wall.
"This kid, John Wall, the impact he has made on Kentucky has been monumental," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said recently. "A kid like that, you know he's there for one year. It's almost like a tease."
That's why Vitale and many coaches would like to see the NBA reject the minimum-age rule that mandates a player must be at least 19 and, unless he's an international player, be one year removed from high school before he is eligible for the draft. That rule, which went into effect in 2006, has funneled a handful of players to school for just a single season.
Fellas, we hardly got to know you.
"I don't think it's good for the college game," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils join Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse as No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. "First off, basketball teams are not the main thing that happens at a school. School is the main thing that happens. You have to honor what your school is trying to accomplish and that's to educate kids."
Bringing in a player for less than a full year, he insists, only fuels a perception that some players are nowhere close to being a "student-athlete." Krzyzewski met with NBA commissioner David Stern to lobby for a rule change:
Go back to the days of letting a player jump straight to the NBA out of high school a la Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but if he opts for college, he must stay for at least two years and preferably three as is the case for a baseball player.
If the NBA had such a rule, the current landscape would be more star-studded. Memphis lost Tyreke Evans last year and Derrick Rose the year before as one-and-dones. UCLA said a quick goodbye to Jrue Holiday last year and Kevin Love in 2008. Michael Beasley (Kansas State), O.J. Mayo (USC), Eric Gordon (Indiana) and Jerryd Bayless (Arizona) also were one-and-dones selected in the 2008 draft.
"Some coaches may say they don't want one-and-dones," said coach Bill Self of the No. 1 overall seed Kansas Jayhawks. "I'm not totally buying into that. I think if you drop a one-and-done in anybody's lap, they would probably say, 'He definitely made our team better and our program stronger,' as long as he came to school for the right reasons."
Though it's true that the college game has dealt with early entries for years and continued to thrive, the rapid, sometimes the unexpected exodus of the one-and-done player has created a problem for coaches.
"A lot of times, it's hard to have great players backing up great players," said Ohio State's Thad Matta, who has had some suggest he needs to change his recruiting strategy after he lost three one-and-dones in the opening round of the 2007 draft — Greg Oden (first overall just ahead of another one-and-done, Kevin Durant of Texas), Mike Conley and Daequan Cook — and one each in 2008 and 2009. "It does make it challenging when you're trying to build something that's going to be sustainable over the years."
"You still want to recruit the best players you can get that fit the institution in terms of the academic side of things, the social side of things," UCLA coach Ben Howland said, "but it definitely makes it hard to plan because you don't know how long you're going to have certain players."
Calipari, who might have a third freshman, guard Eric Bledsoe, toy with the idea of bolting for the NBA this year, said he doesn't like the current rule and agrees with Krzyzewski, but he isn't about to change his philosophy.
"What I do is recruit the best players I can and if they're prepared after a year to go, I influence them to go," he said. "Then you just keep reloading."
But first, enjoy the moment.
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.