For a brief moment during last night’s NCAA Championship, it appeared that one-and-dones would be defeated once again. Earlier in the week, ever since John Calipari failed to win a title with a roster of players all born after the release of “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow, some ridiculous headlines were floating around, hailing the end of the one-and-done era of college basketball, and saying that players will decide to stay in school longer to win a title.
Of course, Duke and its four freshmen came back to win, but regardless of last night’s results, common sense and a basic understanding of sports economics show that one year of college will be the norm for the top players for the foreseeable future. Even though Kentucky missed out on another title, Coach K and Duke proved that top freshmen can still bring championships. When I saw two other likely one-and-dones in Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor take over in the final minutes to beat veteran-heavy Wisconsin, I came to a realization: I really enjoy one-and-done players.
Imagine this: the NBA has no salary cap. Money is not an object at all. The best players go to the biggest markets to play for the best coaches. And these teams still manage to lose in the playoffs to teams with “conventional” rosters. If you’re in Miami or San Antonio, you’re nodding your head right now. Well, that’s what this era of college basketball is like, too. A team like Kentucky, with virtually unlimited recruiting power, boasts a team that is entirely made up of superb athletes, yet can still get beat by a team that looks like the ones from the ‘90s, before there was any of this, when the best of the best could (and would) just skip college entirely.
Wisconsin was no Toon Squad. Kentucky was no Monstarrs. The David-and-Goliath rhetoric surrounding this Final Four was overplayed; even with all of the talent Kentucky had, they’d still get carded buying lottery tickets. Sure, they were undefeated, and they were fun to watch, but what made them even more fun is that they were flawed. Down the stretch, they looked less than perfect. Even Jahlil Okafor was outplayed by three-star recruit Frank Kaminsky for most of last night’s game.
Every year, there is the drama of young kings getting slain with the help of their own faults, a show George R.R. Martin would be proud of.
The big criticism is that Calipari and Krzyzewski are “renting” these players, and don’t place much value on the long-term development of their skills and character. And the players are called out for their lack of loyalty to places that house them and teach them a thing or two for a year. But the players are just opportunistic folks taking advantage of a messed-up system. How can you blame Coach Cal for wanting to bring the very best players to Kentucky, and how can you blame the very best players for wanting to get to a place that will help them make millions as quickly as possible?
The fact that a traditionally constituted team like Wisconsin took on the Harrison twins and won, and then took Duke to the wire, confirmed one thing for me: I love these high-flying freshmen. They’re fun to watch, they’re incredibly athletic, yet they still can be beat. And that’s what makes college basketball great.