The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

About two weeks ago, Bob Knight said he believed the new rule requiring basketball players to be at least one year removed from high school before being eligible for the NBA draft is “the worst thing that’s happened to college basketball since I’ve been coaching.”

While I thought this was just Knight being bitter after Texas freshman sensation Kevin Durant led the Longhorns to a dominating 80-51 win over Texas Tech Feb. 20 – that is after he already lit up the Red Raiders up for 37 points and 23 rebounds in January – Knight has a point.

Let me first say that I have yearned for a minimum age in the NBA draft for years, and I was thrilled when the new rules were issued. I thought it was a major victory for the NCAA, raising its level of play and promoting academics.

But Knight was not arguing against the idea of an age-minimum; instead, he stated that if young players are required to go to college, they should have to stay for at least two years. To him, a “student-athlete” going to college for only one year, or in some cases just over a semester, makes a mockery of collegiate sports. Such a system essentially takes the “student” out of student-athlete, or as Knight described it, “the kid is simply like a hired player.”

Knight has a point – an athlete going to college with the intention of staying just one year before going pro makes a joke out of the entire system. It turns college into the minor leagues.

Of course, the two poster-boys for what could become a common “one-and-done” practice are freshmen Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. For months, the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies have been leaders in the “Oden/Durant NBA Draft Sweepstakes,” with just the minor detail that neither has actually declared for the draft yet.

But what if one, or both, stayed? It might be the best thing that could possibly happen to college – and pro – basketball.

In college football, players like Peyton Manning and 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart returned to school for their senior years, despite popular expectations. Not only must players be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the NFL, but there are plenty of precedents for players to return for a fourth.

Meanwhile, basketball players have traditionally bolted college as early as possible, from Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, NBA stars who left school after their freshmen year, to now-unknown players like Eddie Griffin and Rodney White, both freshmen when they were each selected in the top nine of the 2001 draft.

Griffin currently averages 1.4 points per game for Minnesota, while White is playing in Italy. A college degree would be nice right about now for the White’s of the world, of which there are many.

So what would the returns of Durant and Oden mean? For starters, it would pave the way for stars of the future to stay in school voluntarily, not only because they have to. It would possibly even help give the NBA and NCAA the intestinal fortitude to agree on a rule keeping athletes in school a minimum of two years.

And the thing is, Oden and/or Durant just might stay.

They are both soft-spoken, humble, intelligent student-athletes who say they love the overall college experience. Neither player’s family is in dire economic circumstances, and, most importantly, each has said he is strongly considering returning next season.

While those declarations have to be taken with a grain of salt -seeing as their teams are set to make NCAA runs- they do not rule out the possibility that the two best players in America may just come back next year.

Durant, a cross between Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady, is the best college player of this generation, averaging 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He could solidify himself as one of the all-time greats if he leads Texas on an NCAA tournament run and, of course, stays in Austin for more than just one year.

Meanwhile, Oden could be the second-coming of Bill Russell. While Oden’s offensive game has plenty of room for improvement, it does not take a basketball connoisseur to recognize his defensive dominance. The 37 – I mean, 19 – year-old from Indianapolis alters every shot within 10 feet of the basket and snatches rebounds like candy.

If just one of the two players returned, the flawed age-minimum rule would be worthwhile. If not, then Knight’s assessment would be sadly accurate.

Let’s just hope money doesn’t talk quite loud enough.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]edu.