NBA scouts, general managers, coaches, and even players are keeping a keen eye on Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke, realizing that four players from those teams could affect the futures of the low-feeding franchises that will pluck them in the June draft.
It's pretty much accepted that Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid will thrive at the NBA level when they decide to declare for the draft, which will most likely be after this, their freshman seasons. But what about those other first-year players with delusions of grandeur who decide to make the leap?
The NBA's one-and-done rule, instituted before the 2006 draft, has worked out miserably except in the cases of a handful of gifted players. While some 19-year-olds are truly ready to enter the league — not only on a talent basis but maturity-wise — most are not, and those one-and-dones are riding benches and bouncing around a league that no longer has the patience for player development.
While the one-and-done rule could work wonderfully for those teams that nab the aforementioned four players, the NBA should work with the NCAA to change the rule to a mandatory two seasons in college.
While there are exceptions — Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis — there also are players such as Tyrus Thomas, Donte Greene, Anthony Randolph, Bill Walker (a former Celtic), Tiny Gallon, Tommy Mason-Griffin, Hassan Whiteside, Jereme Richmond, and Grant Jerrett.
It's not that college freshmen don't deserve to make a living, but the question is whether one year of college actually helps prospects with the long-term goal of staying in the NBA for a prolonged period.
There was a time when the longer you remained in college, the more you were scrutinized, but in today's NBA, general managers have much less patience with younger players who may take years to develop.
The Lakers added several castoffs this season with the express purpose of saving salary cap space for next summer.
Two of those players are Shawne Williams, the first player taken under the one-and-done rule in 2006, and Xavier Henry, who was a first-round pick of the Grizzlies in 2010. While both are contributing, it has taken a lot of time for them — especially Williams — to get comfortable in the NBA.
Williams, however, said he doesn't regret his decision to come out.
"It was an adrenaline rush for sure, but I feel like it was a good experience," said Williams, who was drafted 17th overall by Indiana GM Larry Bird. "I probably wasn't ready to come out at that time, but they don't draft on who's ready or not, they draft on potential.
"But I went to a great situation and had some great coaches, went with Larry Bird. It was unfortunate that I couldn't get all my wrinkles ironed out. But I feel like it was a great experience. Whoever can come out after one year, they need to do it, because there's no use to stay in college for your game to diminish."
Williams acknowledged that there can be an urgency by freshmen to join the NBA to avoid the heavy scrutiny that has been applied to players such as the Celtics' Jared Sullinger, who passed on entering the draft following his freshman season. But the point of entering the draft should be to maximize the length and quality of your NBA career.
Just getting into the league is a young man's goal, but there should be more guidance for those considering the decision. Remaining in school for a minimum of two years is beneficial for both the NCAA and NBA. There will be a higher quality of product in college basketball, and more qualified, mature, and prepared players entering the NBA.
While we may have to wait an additional year for the Parkers, Randles, Embiids, and Wigginses of the future, the overall product will be improved and the draft busts reduced.
Before now, when it seems every college player who averages more than 10 points a game leaves for the draft, players were allowed to develop their own identity and personality. There was a sense that fans would be able to watch their favorite players develop before entering the next level. Jumping to the NBA in the infancy of that process doesn't foster future success, only unpredictability.
So while we follow the NCAA season, let's not think about the Big Four who seem destined for success. Let's think of all those other freshmen considering the jump who are as qualified for the next level as a valet driver is for the Indianapolis 500.