And we know what that means for college basketball, 2006-07 style: It will have the most gifted freshman class since Kevin Garnett jimmied the draft door for high school seniors in 1995 and then Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal kicked it down a year later.
NBA legislation of last spring now bars players from entering a draft pool until they are both a year removed from their high school class' "graduation" and at least 19 years old.
Couple that standard with the fact that the Class of 2006 is something beyond "better than average" (especially in post prospects) and there is strong reason to suspect that a large percentage of the teams that make deep runs into the 2007 tournament – including those reaching the Final Four in Atlanta – will do so in large part because of freshmen.
Here are a dozen of those. Watch them closely next season – many will, without question, be among the "one and done (and bound for the NBA) variety":
What he is capable of doing next season: Hmmm . . . does ``Leading the Buckeyes to a national championship and being the National Player of the Year" sound too outrageous? If it does, you haven't seen him play. Here is where I write, for what only seems like the 1,000th time, "He will be the most physically dominant center in college basketball since Shaquille O'Neal". Toss in fellow freshmen Mike Conley, Daequan Cook (both of which should also start) and David Lighty, and this is certain: OSU fans are not going to be satisfied with a regular-season Big Ten Conference title and trip to the second round of the NCAA tourney in 2007.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: He would have been the first selection . . . as he would have been a year ago, as well. That's filed under the "no-brainer" category.
What he is capable of doing next season: Hawes could be the Pacific 10 Conference's Player of the Year while leading the Huskies to a conference championship. With the possible exception of Josh McRoberts (Duke) and Joakim Noah (Florida), no 6-10-plus player on the college level next season will have his combination of post and perimeter offensive skills. And he's a much underrated rebounder and shot blocker, as well. Two other freshmen, forward Quincy Pondexter and guard Adrian Oliver, may also start right away for Coach Lorenzo Romar.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: Conservatively, he could have been selected anywhere from third to 10th in the first round.
What he is capable of doing next season: At the very least, he should be the Big 12's Rookie of the Year. But it also wouldn't be surprising to see him lead the conference in scoring and be its Player of the Year, as well. Like LaMarcus Aldridge, he is 6-10 and even leaner than Aldridge was as a freshman. But his game isn't anything like the player who could be the NBA's No. 1 selection on June 28. He has so many perimeter skills that it wouldn't be a stretch to see him play a lot of guard for Coach Rick Barnes. Another freshman, D.J. Augustin, could start in the backcourt.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: See the Hawes comments in the same category.
What he is capable of doing next season: With the NBA having stripped the Huskies of Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone, Robinson could end up being Coach Jim Calhoun's best player. He has Gay's physical dimensions and innate ability but plays with considerably more energy on a consistent basis. Look for him to finish second behind Jeff Adrien in both scoring and rebounding for the Huskies, and to help keep the program from losing much ground on its Big East Conference opposition.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: He would have "intrigued" a lot of talent evaluators and conceivably could have played his way into the first round during individual workouts in front of NBA decision makers.
What he is capable of doing next season: Unlike the vast majority of the players in this class, Harris (who will be a 20-year-old freshman) has the strength and physical maturity to cope with any "wing-type" players anywhere in college basketball. His jump shot is streaky and his decision making with the ball can wobble, at times. But there will be nights when he leads the Orange in points, rebounds and assists. Along with Stanley Robinson, an early co-favorite for the Big East's Freshman of the Year trophy.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: With his strength and determination, he could have dominated a lot of his college counterparts during workouts in front of scouts. But he needed at least one season to convince NBA talent evaluators that he could be a full-time guard in their league.
What they are capable of doing next season: It's difficult to separate these twins or the impact they will have for the Cardinal as freshmen. Not that their skills are "identical", mind you. Robin is a relentless rebounder and blocks shots just about as well as do Greg Oden and Brandan Wright. Brook is anything but timid under the backboards but has a much more diversified offensive resume right now than does his brother. This is a 1-2 post punch that the Pac 10 coaches have been dreading since Coach Trent Johnson got the Lopez commitments a year ago.
How they would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: They're both raw, at both ends of the floor. But they're big, strong, athletic, smart and determined. They both would have been snatched up before too deeply into the 20s in the first round.
Brandan Wright (Brentwood, Tenn., Brentwood Academy) North Carolina
What he is capable of doing next season: We'll give him the slight edge over Tywon Lawson (Mouth of Wilson, Va., Oak Hill Academy) and Wayne Ellington (Merion Station, Pa., The Episcopal Academy) as the member of Roy Williams marvelous six-player freshman class who will have the most impact right away. His presence in the lane and along the baseline will make it even that much more difficult to deal with Tyler Hansbrough as a sophomore than it was last season.
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: His slender physique and under-developed offensive might have kept him out of lottery range. But, like the Lopez brothers, someone would tabbed him in the high teens to early 20s range of the first round.
What he is capable of doing next season: He gets the edge over another dynamic freshman for Coach Paul Hewitt, forward Thaddeus Young (Memphis Mitchell), as the key newcomer next season because he'll be dictating the Yellow Jackets' offense as the team's playmaker. He'll be bigger and stronger than any other freshman point guard in the country (unless Syracuse uses Paul Harris at the point on occasion).
How he would have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: The comparisons to former Georgia Tech standout Jarrett Jack are already being made (and are valid). But his NBA stock will be much better served with a couple of seasons, at least, on the college level.
Lance Thomas (Newark, N.J., St. Benedict's) Duke
What he is capable of doing next season: His presence, along with Duke's three other freshmen (the most notable of those being Gerald Henderson of The Episcopal Academy), will help make the Blue Devils the No. 2 preseason choice (behind North Carolina) in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Josh McRoberts will lead Duke in scoring and rebounding. And Thomas will be among those mopping up if opponents stack their defenses to slow McRoberts down.
How would he have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: There are still too many questions about his jump shot and eventual NBA position (forward or wing?). With likely development over at least the next couple of seasons, he'll a much more solid NBA future.
What he is capable of doing next season: Even with an abundance of perimeter talent on hand, Budinger – possibly the best all-around athlete in the Class of 2006 – will be a key contributor for Coach Lute Olson. Once he gets stronger and becomes a dependable defender, he'll be as good a wing as there is in the Pac 10.
How would he have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: His athleticism and ability to score off the dribble or on deep, deep jumpers wowed NBA talent evaluators last summer on the traveling team circuit, just as it did in the McDonald's All-America Game in March. He would have been selected somewhere in the first round.
Darrell Arthur (Dallas South Oak Cliff) Kansas
What he is capable of doing next season: Even with a collection of quality post players returning for Coach Bill Self, Arthur is capable of being the Jayhawks' most productive (scoring and rebounding) inside presence next season. In camps, in spring and summer tournaments, and in all-star games, there were times when his future looked as promising as any player in this class other than Greg Oden. But consistency is the thing that is lacking right now. With the kind of competition he'll face daily in Lawrence, one would think he will have to acquire it to stay on the court very long.
How would he have impacted the 2006 NBA Draft: Some scouts would have voiced concerned about an apparent lack of an "I'm gonna kick your butt, 24/7" attitude. But that wouldn't have prevented a franchise from snapping him up late in the first round. Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, 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 email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com