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How much fun from one-and-done?

When star basketball players leave after their freshman season, it has an impact on their former teams and coaches. The rule is controversial, but it doesn't appear likely to change soon.

May 17, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • O.J. Mayo's playing days at USC were brief, but he had a positive effect on the team  at least until he was accused of receiving improper benefits.
O.J. Mayo's playing days at USC were brief, but he had a positive effect… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

Thanks for the memories?

The 31 players who spent only one season in college before becoming first-round NBA draft picks since the league changed its minimum-age requirements in 2005 have produced zero NCAA titles.

Generating headaches for fans, coaches and teammates hasn't been quite as taxing.

The unexpected departure of Jrue Holiday after one season at UCLA contributed to a rare losing season the following year for the Bruins. USC's O.J. Mayo sparked a NCAA investigation over improper benefits that led to self-imposed punishments that included a postseason ban and helped nudge coach Tim Floyd out of what he had long proclaimed would be his last job.

Floyd now coaches at Texas El Paso.

But as Floyd often repeated throughout Mayo's brief stay at USC, which resulted in an NCAA tournament appearance: He hated to think where the Trojans would be without Mayo.

That's the conundrum of the here-today, gone-tomorrow freshmen from a college coach's perspective — you might not be able to win basketball's biggest prize with them, but your record certainly would suffer had they been allowed to go straight to the NBA.

The benefits of so-called one-and-done players seem murkier for the rest of the college community.

"None of these guys are dying to be student-athletes," said one NBA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "If they were, they wouldn't be leaving for Las Vegas two seconds after their team loses [in the NCAA tournament] to go hang out with some wannabe workout guy to prepare for the draft.

"The guys who want to go to college, let them go to college. The one-and-done guys, all they're doing is playing for a minor league system under the guise of it being the NCAA."

NCAA executives and coaches have long professed a desire to follow the baseball model, where players may be drafted out of high school but once they enter college must wait three years to be eligible for the draft again. That doesn't appear likely to happen any time soon.

According to multiple people around the NBA, the league's minimum-age guidelines that require players to be at least 19 and one year removed from high school are not expected to be altered in the coming months as part of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

No freshman has been the focal point of an NCAA champion since Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony in 2003, and that was two years before the NBA barred players from jumping directly from high school to the league. There have been close calls with Ohio State's Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. reaching the title game in 2007 and Memphis' Derrick Rose doing the same a year later, though that NCAA tournament run was later vacated when Rose's SAT score was invalidated.

One possible upside to players leaving after only one year is that it has resulted in increased parity in the college game, allowing mid-majors laden with juniors and seniors such as George Mason, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth to reach basketball's biggest stage.

"When the high-major teams lose those guys, it allows experienced teams like Butler to make it into the Final Four two years in a row," said Paul Hewitt, George Mason's new coach. "As the guys leave, it may hurt an individual program, but it's brought another level of teams who think they can make a run in March."

Hewitt knows all too well one of the chief drawbacks of early departures: a short-handed roster. As coach at Georgia Tech, he lost four freshmen to the draft — Chris Bosh, Derrick Favors, Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young — and he acknowledged that his inability to have ready replacements contributed to his firing after last season.

"I think I have to be honest with myself and say I didn't manage properly for that possibility," Hewitt said. "I think we lost so many guys that it came back to get us."

Another concern of the fleeting freshmen is their impact on a program's Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA point system that can result in loss of scholarships or harsher punishments for teams whose athletes do not perform well in the classroom, particularly if they leave school when they are not in good academic standing.

Ohio State was docked two scholarships after Oden and Kosta Koufos failed to complete the third-quarter term during their one and only college seasons.

"It affects your APR, no question," said UCLA Coach Ben Howland, who has lost three freshmen to the draft — Trevor Ariza in 2004, Kevin Love in 2008 and Holiday in 2009. Among the three, only Love was part of a deep NCAA tournament run, leading the Bruins to the Final Four.

Though many believe Ariza (a second-round pick) and Holiday (No. 17 overall) could have improved their draft stock by remaining in college for an additional year, Howland maintained their decisions have not had negative long-term implications. Ariza won a title with the Lakers and made $6.3 million last season with New Orleans; Holiday started all 82 games for Philadelphia.

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