Wiedmer: Will Cats' door keep revolving?

Wiedmer: Will Cats' door keep revolving?

April 11th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Kentucky coach John Calipari, center, addresses the crowd during a championship celebration at Rupp Arena Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/The Lexington Herald-Leader, David Perry)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

At 7:30 tonight on ESPNU, the nation's top two high school basketball players are expected to announce where they'll spend their obligatory year of NBA purgatory as faux college students.

If both 6-foot-10 defensive demon Nerlens Noel and 6-6 offensive wunderkind Shabazz Muhammad choose defending national champ Kentucky, the Wildcats just might be headed for a repeat.

Then again, should neither choose to spend nine months in the Bluegrass on the first day of the spring signing period, UK coach John Calipari's casual interest in the New York Knicks job just might turn quite serious, since Cal would appear to be relegated to college hoops' mediocre masses for the first time since joining the Big Blue Nation in the spring of 2009.

Or the Cats could do as expected and land either Noel or Muhammad -- Noel looks the more likely of the two -- making Kentucky a preseason top-10 lock but a Final Four long shot.

Yet whatever the twin terrors of the 2012 recruiting class decide, there is little question that Cal's Cats' recent national title on the backs of three freshman starters has further fanned the flames regarding whether such one-and-done talents as UK rookie Anthony Davis are good for the college game.

And if they're not, what to do about it.

There's never been a simple solution, in part because it's never been the NCAA's rule. It's an NBA rule that -- if the pro league was honest about it -- was put in to protect the owners from themselves in signing high school kids who either weren't talented enough, mature enough (or both) to become millionaires at the tender age of 18.

So the league mandated that you couldn't enter the NBA draft until your high school class was a year removed from graduation. You could go to Europe for a year -- as Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings did -- but you couldn't play in the NBA.

The years since have seen such talents as Kevin Durrant briefly excite us as a Texas Longhorn and Ohio State Buckeyes Greg Oden and Mike Conley reach the 2007 NCAA title game before they said hello, NBA, and goodbye, Columbus, in their only collegiate seasons.

But not until this year's selfless and sizzling Kentucky squad arrived did a team with three potential one-and-done starters -- Davis, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and point guard Marquis Teague -- cut down the nets.

What this means for the future of college basketball could well be nothing. Though Calipari has now debunked the myth that you can't win it all with one-and-doners, it remains a volatile mix.

Winning with freshmen is like a grand dessert: It's enormously tasty, but you're hungry again two hours later and nothing about it brings much sustenance. You've got to pretty much rebuild from the ground up every year, overwhelmingly reliant on another stunning freshman class, which can't always be obtained.

Calipari's done better than most. The Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist/Teague/Kyle Wiltjer quartet was his third straight No. 1 recruiting class at UK. But without landing either Noel, Muhammad or both, Cal won't claim a fourth straight, which would almost certainly make a third straight trip to the Final Four a difficult task for Big Blue.

Many will rightly say we've all killed an unseemly number of trees and drained far too many barrels of ink lamenting the fortunes of no more than a dozen or so basketball phenoms a year. And there is much truth in that.

For all the talk of how the one-and-doners are ruining the game, it would be hard to find a more disciplined, determined, unselfish bunch than Cal's national champs. They may have mostly been freshmen and sophomores, but they played with the poise and purpose of seniors.

This isn't to say one-and-done is perfect. Two years would be better. No years might be as good. Let them do what we used to for mega-talents such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant: Skip college altogether.

And if both the NBA and NCAA really care about what's best for kids, perhaps they should also do this: Allow those prep stars who don't make an NBA roster directly out of high school an opportunity to return to college. They sit one year, have three years of collegiate eligibility remaining but must stay in school at least two of those years before again chasing their NBA dream.

That would truly put the kids first without making a sham of the college experience.

But until then, all these one-and-doners are certainly making the recruiting process more interesting for feast-or-famine programs such as UK.

For proof, consider this tweet from one Wildcats fan regarding the Muhammad/Noel decisions as reported by ESPN:

"Honestly, I am more excited for their decision than I was for the [NCAA] championship game," the fan tweeted. "[I] felt the game was in the bag ... this is big!!"

And you thought such nuttiness pertained only to college football signing day.