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NCAA tournament lacks star power

NBA scouts are not ecstatic about this year's class of potential draft picks.

March 26, 2009|Shannon Ryan

This season's NCAA tournament games have caused television ratings to skyrocket and made the blood flow, whether it runs Cardinals red or Carolina blue.

Like last season, four teams seeded No. 1 are alive in this week's regionals, including Louisville and Pittsburgh, who shrugged off upset-minded underdogs to maintain order in the brackets yet entertain CBS audiences.

What's missing is the NBA draft audition.

As much debate took place last season about which player would be the No. 1 draft pick in June as which team would be No. 1 in April.

But after last year's off-the-charts draft, there's an apparent drop in elite talent.

"I don't think there's the star power in this draft, not even close," said one NBA scout, who requested anonymity. "You probably won't have the same number of starters."

Blake Griffin is widely considered the top pick if he decides to leave Oklahoma after his sophomore season.

But then?

"Close your eyes, put your finger on a name on the list and you'll see," the scout said. "I couldn't tell you any more than the man in the moon. Last year, we all had a pretty good idea."

All five Kansas starters who won the national championship last season are depositing NBA checks. Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo made last season's tournament an All-Star tour of one-and-dones.

This season's draft needs to be viewed through a film of perspective.

"It depends on your expectations," the scout said. "Last year, so many guys were coming out ready to play. You can cite a number of guys [picked in] the 20s and 30s who are starting this year. Maybe [this year] you just get a guy who helps you rather than a starter or star."

In a mock draft list by ESPN's Chad Ford, Griffin and 7-foot-3 Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet were top-five picks still playing. Among his 14 lottery picks, only five -- Griffin, Thabeet, Arizona junior forward Jordan Hill, Oklahoma freshman guard Willie Warren and Louisville junior forward Earl Clark -- remain in the tournament.

Some coaches think this season's class of potential draftees isn't bad. It's just not as buzz-worthy.

"The freshman story is what everybody wants to write about and everybody wants to talk about because they're new," Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon said. "With DeJuan [Blair], he's a sophomore, he became the new face and became the story. I think that's why he got talked about more."

Drawing the line from A to B isn't a difficult connection for college players. With seemingly less competition in the draft, perhaps they think this is an excellent time to leap.

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino shakes his head when he sees players leave too early, wondering what will happen to them on the end of an NBA bench, where coaches often ignore them and their development meets a dead end.

Pitino thinks about what will become of B.J. Mullens, the Ohio State freshman center who is considering entering the draft. He came off the bench and averaged less than 10 points and fewer than five rebounds a game.

It would be "the worst move the young man could ever make," Pitino said. "He's going to be a terrific pro, but you want to stay in school and become the best player you can be so when you go to the pros, you're ready for it."

That was the advice Pitino provided Louisville forward Terrence Williams. He stayed for his junior season, improved his statistics, led the Cardinals to the Midwest Regional semifinals and is projected as a first-round selection.

NBA scouts aren't ecstatic over this season's class. And that's not necessarily bad for college basketball.

"Last year, we stopped Blake Griffin," Pitino said. "I don't think we could stop him like we did last year. He's improved so much. [Villanova senior] Dante Cunningham has improved so much. College really helps these guys."

--

sryan@tribune.com

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