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UCLA, USC could be next on roller coaster

NBA draft underscores how rule leaves college coaches to cope with one-and-done recruits.

June 30, 2007|Lisa Dillman and Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writers

This year it was Greg Oden and Kevin Durant ...

With Ohio State's Thad Matta and Texas' Rick Barnes feeling the hurt.

Next year it could be Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo ...

So get ready to wince, coaches Ben Howland and Tim Floyd.

Seasons of gain are followed by losses and pain in the new one-and-done era of college basketball.

The syndrome that just hit hardest in Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, is expected to strike Los Angeles next year if Love and Mayo live up to expectations in their first seasons at UCLA and USC. Experts say both players might have been high draft choices this year were it not for the rule that now bars high school players from being eligible.

For the college programs, it's a curious problem. If star recruits play as well as expected, many may leave after only one season. If not, well, that probably means the team underachieved.

Matta, in an interview at his office before that draft, lamented that his losses would leave the Buckeyes "right back to where we were" before freshmen stars Oden and Mike Conley Jr. arrived to drive Ohio State to last season's national championship game. And he added that he didn't want his program "to become known as a place where guys go and put their time in" for only one season.

But he also acknowledged, and the vast majority of his coaching peers would agree, that it's better to need to rebuild than to never have built at all.

USC's Floyd said: "I don't know of a program that's walking away from greatness. We've all seen what happened to Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony, what happened to Ohio State this year.

"It's part of the equation, trying to raise your program."

Howland said the one-year college requirement "ends up positive for everyone."

"I think Oden and Durant will be better pros right away for having played in college," he said. "They've spent a year maturing and improving their skills."

The UCLA coach added, "I think it was great for college basketball for having these kids in the game."

To the coaches who would fight it, the advice is this: Get used to it.

"What the Buckeyes are facing, what college basketball is facing

At Ohio State, they had that many in one recruiting class. Center Oden was the first pick in Thursday's NBA draft, going to the Portland Trail Blazers. Point guard Conley Jr. went fourth to Memphis, and swingman Daequan Cook, who played off the bench for the Buckeyes, went to Philadelphia at No. 21.

In all, five of the first 10 and six of the first 12 picks were freshmen, with a total of eight going in the first round.

A few of those choices were predictable more than a year ago -- Oden, for example, would have been a very high pick out of high school under the old rules.

But then there were players such as Conley, who was generally considered the third-best point guard in his recruiting class -- behind Ty Lawson and D.J. Augustine -- and a year later ended up going fourth overall in the draft. Conley's rise was so rapid that it was, for a time anyway, lost on even him.

Matta recalled that after the loss to Florida in the national title game, Conley heard a reference to the Buckeyes playing next season without him and Oden.

"What next year?" Matta said an incredulous Conley retorted. "I'm coming back to OSU."

The coach said, "I thought, 'This kid has no idea.' He didn't want to leave. Greg and Mike stayed [in school] until the last day. They came in and embraced college."

So, too, reportedly, did Durant at Texas. But that didn't keep him there after a season in which he was national player of the year. He was drafted No. 2 overall, by Seattle.

Keeping the college program afloat "becomes more challenging because you have to try to project when a guy is going to go," said Matta, who is now in the process of reloading -- while staring down the barrel of a nonconference schedule that includes North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee next season.

Said Gibbons: "Coaches are going to recruit with that in mind. You don't want to have your whole program impacted by it but, it's inevitable if you get a player like Oden or Durant.

"Ohio State isn't going to fall out of national rankings. They still have a very good team. A team that's in a rebuilding mode. Maybe look at it as a four-year cycle. We had this one great player, and now what are we going to do to sustain our program.

"It's like Wall Street. You're going to have your peaks and your downturns."

USC's Floyd said it's too early to tell how much college programs will be affected.

"The premier programs that just select talent won't be hurt as badly," he said, "Carolina being a team, for example, that can easily replace Brandan Wright" -- taken eighth overall by Charlotte. "They just plug in the next guy. They may be four deep at that position; they'll be fine.

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