HOUSTON - Two seconds ahead of the halftime horn at Monday night's NCAA championship game, Butler junior Shelvin Mack rose up and buried the kind of 3-pointer that makes NBA scouts drool.
It was yet another example of why Mack, Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Kentucky freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones all left the Final Four with the option of becoming first-round draft choices in this summer's NBA draft.
But should they enter a draft in which the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the owners could lead to a lockout and a possible shortened 2011-12 NBA season?
"I know there's been talk about it," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who is aware that Mack, a physical junior guard, could go among the top 20 selections. "I don't think anybody can stand in my shoes and say exactly how long it's going to last. But certainly it's a factor."
Here's another factor: Underclassmen must declare by April 24. They must then remove their names by May 8 to return to school.
Unfortunately, the CBA doesn't expire until June 30, so any underclassman remaining in the draft is certainly taking a risk, since no rookie contracts would probably be allowed until a new bargaining agreement is in place.
"Then again, does that make this draft weaker?" Stevens wondered. "It might. So you might be able to be drafted higher. Or does it make it so that nobody wants to go out because they'll have to lose their whole senior season, then not play [NBA] basketball until February."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said he's already spoken to Walker, who could well be the first point guard taken in the draft after a shimmering NCAA tournament.
"Kemba and I have had the discussion [before the season] and have not had the discussion since then," Calhoun said Sunday. "It's my job to at least keep my thumb on the labor negotiations, where Kemba would be in the draft, what it would mean for him if there was a lockout, all those types of things. I have that responsibility."
No one has embraced that responsibility like Kentucky coach John Calipari, who sent four freshmen and junior Patrick Patterson into the draft a year ago - all of them going in the first round, including overall No. 1 pick John Wall.
Calipari will tell anyone who will listen, "I don't like the one-and-done rule, never have, but my other choice is to recruit players who aren't good enough. If the ones I end up signing are done after a year, I'll deal with it."
But what if he doesn't have to? What if Knight and Jones return to Kentucky? What if Walker comes back to Connecticut and Mack to Butler? What if North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes similarly ignores the draft? All five could return to the Final Four next season.
"I don't want Brandon to go," Calipari said. "I would want to coach Brandon Knight for the next 15 years. But at the end of the day, these guys have their decisions they'll have to make. If we've all done our jobs, they'll do what they think is right for themselves and their families."