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Monday, November 26, 2007

MSNBC - Kids have taken control of college basketball

Kids have taken control of college basketball
Freshman across country are grabbing headlines so far this season

By Ken Davis
MSNBC contributor
updated 2:50 p.m. CT, Wed., Nov. 21, 2007

If you haven’t heard, a bunch of kids have taken control of college basketball. By kids, we mean freshmen. And they rule.

Pick up a newspaper, surf the Web, or listen to Dick Vitale on the tube, and the names are already familiar. Derrick Rose at Memphis. UCLA’s Kevin Love. Michael Beasley at Kansas State. USC has O.J. Mayo. Eric Gordon at Indiana, Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene at Syracuse, DeAndre Jordan at Texas A&M . . .

The list gets longer every day. They are grabbing headlines, showing up on magazine covers and getting the job done with poise and maturity. But Memphis coach John Calipari wasn’t happy when Rose was named Most Valuable Player of the Memphis Regional of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic — in the first week of the season.

Rose was sensational. He deserved the award as much as anybody. But coaches don’t want Diaper Dandies filling up the trophy case before Thanksgiving. It couldn’t be good for team chemistry, Calipari thought. So after reading a newspaper article with the entire focus on Rose, Calipari called a team meeting at his home.

“Andre Allen was the reason we won; Chris Douglas-Roberts should have been the MVP,” Calipari said. “My whole point to [the older players] was ‘How do you feel about six of you winning 66 games the last two years and the story is about Derrick? How are you dealing with this? How do you feel about it?’ It’s not Derrick’s doing. It’s not my doing. It’s what we’re going to have to deal with as a program. If we do this right, there will be enough light and enough good press for everybody.”

The Memphis players basically told Calipari he had imagined a monster in his closet. Nothing was there.

“What are you worried about?” they asked Calipari. “We’re all fine.”

Coming one year after the arrival — and departure — of Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, another influx of youth may seem like a cause for concern. Oden and Durant magnified the new rule that prevents players from making the jump from high school to the NBA and gave us the trend known as One And Done.

Rose, Mayo, Beasley — and who knows who else — might pack their sneakers and head off for the big bucks in the NBA after this season. But this is no time to panic about the state of college basketball. It is not gloom and doom time.

It’s just a cycle. It won’t become an annual event.

Last year we took a look at the freshman class that included Oden, Durant, Chase Budinger, Ty Lawson, Darrell Arthur, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Greivis Vasquez and Jerome Dyson (to name a few) and we said it might be the best group since the Class of 1979 (Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, North Carolina’s James Worthy, Georgia’s Dominique Wilkins, Indiana’s Isiah Thomas, Kentucky’s Sam Bowie, Ohio State’s Clark Kellogg and Arizona State’s Byron Scott).

This year’s freshman class already looks better than last year. There might not be an Oden or a Durant in the mix. (Personally, I would put Durant up against any other freshman from the past 30 years. He was sensational.) But this year’s group is truly special, especially the way these guys are performing so early in their careers. They are going to have a tremendous impact on the conference races — and it is such a large group that means every conference.

And guess what? The Class of 2008 is pretty darned good as well, with Brandon Jennings (Arizona), Tyreke Evans (undecided), Samardo Samuels (Louisville), Greg Monroe (Georgetown) and Jrue Holiday (UCLA) leading the way.

Those who observe and monitor such things indicate that the junior and sophomore high school classes aren’t quite as loaded. There will always be good recruits. But the bar has been set high the past two years. This is a truly unique time.

Instead of worrying about who will go and who will stay, just enjoy it.

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