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Perception is Not Reality

 


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/ Sept. 22, 2004

Eight of the top ten picks in this year's NBA Draft were college players. Only two of them had less than three years of college experience.

If you've read one of the oh-so-many obituaries of the college game in recent years, you may want to make sure you're sitting down and read that first paragraph again.

Is college basketball as talented as it was before Kevin Garnett changed the basketball world forever? No. Is the margin as big as the gloom-and-doom crowd would have you believe? No.

This past summer, during Mike Krzyzewski's decision to either become the next coach of the Lakers or to stay at Duke (which he, of course, eventually decided to do), we've heard how his departure would be a symbolic death knell of the college game. With Luol Deng departing after one year and Shaun Livingston never showing up in Durham, not even Coach K can beat 'em, so he has to join 'em.

Fact is, it's still a very small handful of players that we've really missed out on seeing in college. If you want to get down to it, only Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James would have brought something to the college game that we've really missed out on. No one else did anything that we haven't seen done by plenty of players.

Would Dwight Howard, Kwame Brown, or even Jermaine O'Neal have done anything in the college game that, say, Drew Gooden, Emeka Okafor, Nick Collison or David West didn't do in recent years?

Would Sebastian Telfair have done anything at Louisville that we haven't seen other freshman phenoms like Raymond Felton, Chris Paul, T.J. Ford, or Dee Brown do in recent years?

Would J.R. Smith have shown up at North Carolina and taken the reigns from Rashad McCants?

And this brings us to the crux of this matter; the perception that players that skip college are automatically more talented or would be better college players than those in college is flat wrong.

Take McCants, for example. He can score in every possible way, and has every attribute you could want for a shooting guard - except he's a shade under 6'4". And J.R. Smith is 6'7". That's why J.R. Smith is a Hornet and McCants a Tar Heel. Not because Smith is better. He's not.

But in college, those couple of inches don't really mean a thing.

Take Syracuse's Hakim Warrick, possibly the best player in the nation next season. If he was two inches taller, he'd have been a top-three pick this year as a power forward. If he had a good jump shot, he'd be a top-three pick as a small forward. But 6'9" guys with his elite athleticism and otherwise skills don't need, nor would they often use, outside jumpers in the college game.

Warrick, or Ryan Gomes, or Wayne Simien, or any other college star who's such a flawed, mediocre player that they (gasp!) are actually still in college would be every bit as good in 1995 or 1985 as they will be in 2005. Some act as if this is the NBA, and they'd be going up against Amare Stoudamire or Dwight Howard four times a season.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the college game hasn't taken a hit from the prep-to-pro guys. I'm not that naive.

What I'm telling you is that reports of the college game's demise have been greatly exaggerated.







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