Raleigh, N.C. – Eric Gordon's college career wasn't supposed to end this way.
When IU welcomed its most-celebrated recruit since Damon Bailey to town last fall, the expectations were clear. This 18-year-old was supposed to gather up his Hoosier teammates, sling them over his shoulder, and carry them to a Big Ten title and the Final Four.
But that's not what happened. Not even close.
Instead, the Eric Gordon chapter of IU hoops history will conclude with a period instead of an exclamation mark. Arkansas' 86-72 win in the first-round of NCAA tourney made sure of that, closing the book on the Hoosiers' season and most likely Gordon's amateur career.
Gordon maintains he hasn't given much thought to whether he'll be back in Bloomington for his sophomore season, but Elliott Spitzer has a better chance of returning as New York's governor than Gordon does of coming back for an encore performance. He's projected as a top-five pick in the '08 NBA Draft, which is NBA-speak for sayonara.
Of course, Gordon isn't the only player who will be one-and-done. USC's O.J. Mayo and Arizona's Jerryd Bayless are two other top-10 '07 recruits who will probably make the jump after their first-round NCAA exits. Syracuse's Donte Green had to settle for the NIT in his rookie season, but another shot at March Madness won't be enough to convince him to turn his back on NBA riches. Kansas State's Michael Beasley has the 11th-seeded Wildcats in the second round, but with a Saturday match-up against Wisconsin he's likely just 40 minutes from announcing for the NBA.
All this one-and-done stuff makes you wonder. Are college coaches recruiting the right players?
I'm not so sure that they are.
While the Gordons, Mayos and Bayless' of the world are now prepping for the next level, Purdue's E'twaun Moore, Scott Martin, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel are prepping for their next game. The Boilermakers play Xavier Saturday for a shot at the Sweet 16, something they last accomplished in 2000. While Purdue's 2008 NCAA exit could come less than 24 hours after Indiana, Coach Matt Painter will have all four back in 2009…and 2010…and 2011.
Many college coaches are so awed by players with NBA skills that they pass on others who can do more for a team's long-term stability and success. I'm not suggesting the future IU staff actively seek out players with a laundry list of deficiencies, but there's something to be said for recruits who are better college prospects than professional ones.
You'll never see that reflected in recruiting rankings, where scouts analyze a player's ability to excel at the professional level. But truth be told, the 35th-best player in a class might be a more valuable signee than the No. 5 prospect.
Want some proof? Go back a couple of years to 2004, when IU signee Josh Smith was ranked No. 5 in the class and Virginia's Sean Singletary was No. 35. Smith never played a minute of college basketball, while Singletary recently earned his third straight first-team All-ACC honor. In 2005, No. 5 prospect and Georgia signee Louis Williams also bypassed college and bolted for the league, while 35th-ranked Joe Krabbenhoft is a valuable piece of a Wisconsin team that has gone 79-22 during his three seasons.
Preps have to spend at least one year in college now, but I'll still venture a guess that the 35th-ranked player in the '07 class - Michigan State's Kalin Lucas - will have a more lasting impact on his team than the No. 5 player - Memphis' Derrick Rose. Lucas blossomed in the second-half of the season and looks like a rising Big Ten star, while Rose is another player who will bowing out after one season in college.
It might be unconventional thinking for coaches to start targeting an E'twaun Moore over a Gordon or a Luke Harangody over a Brandan Wright, but it's something for them to starting considering.
Why? Because four really good years add up to a whole lot more than one great one.
Pretty soon, coaches are going to need to realize that.
DECKER: Recruiting Philosphies Need to Change
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