Giving The Summer of 2005 One Last Look

The shape of college basketball, for next season and beyond, underwent some molding because of some of the things that took place off the court over the summer. High school players can no longer go straight from the prom to the NBA draft and that change could spell tremendous impact on the 2006-07 season . . . especially in Columbus, Ohio.

If you shut it down, college basketball-wise, over the summer, you've got some catching up to do.

 

And we're more than happy to be of assistance.

 

Here's a rehash, in chronological order, of some of the June/July/August news that will shape the sport, in 2005-06 and beyond . . .

 

*Hey 19! On June 21, as part of their new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA and the NBA Players Association announced that, beginning in 2006, candidates for the NBA draft must but at least 19 years old and out of high school for at least a year.

 

That removed the "straight to the league" option that enabled, among others Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard to bypass college and go directly to the NBA, were they quickly evolved into some of the league's elite players.

 

Is it "fair" that an 18-year-old, who has spent four years in high school, not be allowed to give the NBA draft a shot if he is so inclined? No – regardless of the fact that, in most Junes, an average of only three to six players within those parameters should even remotely give the NBA draft the slightest of consideration.

 

But the impact (if even for just one season) on college hoops of those players figures to be significant – just how significant will be illustrated in the next news item we examine.

 

*"We've always dreamed of being Buckeyes" Well, I don't think Greg Oden and Mike Conley said that when they announced on June 29 at their high school (Lawrence North in Indianapolis) that they will sign letters of intent with Ohio State in November.

 

But props to OSU Coach Thad Matta and his staff for the coup that will make the Buckeyes one of the top half-dozen or so teams with the most viable opportunity to win a national title in 2007.

 

Forgive me if you've already read this the dozen or so times I've written it in three years: Oden is the best center prospect produced in the United States since Shaquille O'Neal graduated from Cole High in San Antonio in 1989.

 

If eligible (and willing), he would have been the No. 1 selection in this past NBA draft, as well as (even more obviously) the top choice next June. He insisted all along that he planned to play college basketball – without saying for how long – regardless of any stipulation in the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement. And we tend to believe him.

 

So pencil him in, for the time being, as the No. 1 choice in the 2007 draft.

 

And with the 6-1 Conley – conservatively, one of the five best 2006 prospects as a point guard, and the most complete high school player at his position in the class right now – running the show and Oden dominating the lane at both ends of the floor, the Buckeyes will rival Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina for national television time in 2006-07.

 

*"That settles that" On Aug. 17, the representatives from the NIT and NCAA announced that they had reached a settlement effectively ending the lawsuit filed by the former against the latter. The NIT was suing the NCAA on grounds that it was "monopolizing" post-season basketball competition and, in essence, trying to run the NIT out of business.

 

In the end, though, the NCAA's hefty checking account – it "bought" the NIT for $40.5 million and gave the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Basketball Association schools (Fordham, Manhattan, St. John's, Wagner and New York University) another $16 million to bring a halt to the litigation – ended all of that "monopoly" debate.

 

Let's assume that the preseason version of the NIT will continue to be one of the more entertaining events/games to look forward to in November. Will the NCAA even want to continue a postseason version of the NIT? That's difficult to imagine.

 

*"The Huggins Era comes to a close" Actually, it was quite apparent that Bob Huggins' days as the coach of the University of Cincinnati were numbered when the school revealed in May that it was not going to re-instate the automatic rollover clause to his contract, which had been removed following his DUI arrest the year before.

 

But, with two years remaining on his contract, the assumption was that he would probably coach the Bearcats during the 2005-06 season and then have his choice from among the higher profile programs that would be in need of a coach next spring.

 

That all changed on Aug. 23, however, when the school announced – in nitty, gritty detail – that the Huggins Era was coming to a conclusion within 24 hours.

 

By the next day he had agreed to the $3 million buyout of the final two years of his contract and one of his assistants, Andy Kennedy, had been appointed the program's interim coach.

 

Being paid $3 million not to work seems like a pretty nice gig. And Huggins will have his choice of coaching jobs whenever he's ready to entertain those offers. Some in the NBA believe his next coaching stint will come in their league – probably as an assistant before as a head honcho, though.

 

*"Boys will be boys" Well, that rationale doesn't fly too well. I didn't tally the number of players who encountered legal issues over the summer but there were a bunch of them.

 

The most high profile of those – and the one that has the potential to have more impact on the coming season than any other – concerned Connecticut guards Marcus Williams and A.J. Price's alleged involvement in the on-campus theft and attempt to sell four laptop computers.

 

With Williams – one of the, conservatively, best half-dozen point guards on the college level – in the lineup, the Huskies should be considered, along with Duke, as one of the two teams with the best opportunity to win a national title in 2006.

 

Without Williams (or Price), Jim Calhoun will likely go with a freshman recruited in July (Robert Garrison) as his playmaker.

 

It's unfair to say that, in that scenario, a team with a marvelous frontcourt (including Rudy Gay and Josh Boone) would be "rudderless". Garrison is a solid prospect. But he's not Williams.

 

That's why a lot of  people outside of Storrs are paying close attention to what how that situation plays itself out.

 

*"Kansas recruiting closes with a Rush" Forgive us for the awful pun.

 

But the Sept. 2 announcement by the University of Kansas that Brandon Rush had been cleared for freshman eligibility with the Jayhawks means that practices in Allen Fieldhouse – and the Big 12 Conference race – will be even more interesting this season.

 

The 6-5 ½ Rush, who would have likely been selected somewhere in the second round if he hadn't pulled his name out of the NBA draft pull in June, gives Coach Bill Self four probable future pros in a freshman class that also includes McDonald's All-Americas Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Micah Downs. And, although Rush will go into the season with the most expectations (within the state and nationally), he may be the fourth best long-term prospect in that group.

 

An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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