By Adam Maher / @artomar1
Congrats to Brittney Griner and Baylor for making the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Regionals for the third year in a row! Brittney's 35 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, and one massive two-handed THROW DOWN led the Bears' routing over Georgia Tech yesterday afternoon, which was initiated by a 20 - 0 first half start.
Did you say 20 - 0???
If that dunk didn't give you shivers, what will?!
With three potential games left on the schedule, Baylor, 37 - 0, has an unreal opportunity to attain 40 wins this season. As pretty much everyone has reported, no NCAA Basketball DI team (Men's or Women's) has ever done so.
Win or lose 40, Griner, Baylor's 6'8" star forward, a 21-year-old junior, will decide after the season if she wants to enter the 2012 WNBA draft.
Which brings me to Austin Rivers, who announced Friday that he will enter the 2012 NBA draft after a melodramatic freshman year at Duke.
Wave Bandana, don of SuperMookinFiends.com, hit me up Friday at noon with the news:
Austin Rivers is leaving Duke after just one season. The 6-foot-3 freshman will sign with an agent and forgo his remaining eligibly, multiple sources told CBSSports.com. Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists this past season in Durham. Rivers, according to multiple NBA executives, is expected to be a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft," said CBS' Jeff Goodman Friday morning.
My first thought was, Damn, Austin's not nearly as high stock as he would have been straight out of high school; he needs another year at Duke to work out the kinks. But now that I've had a few days to mull it over, I can't blame the kid.
Heck, we all know that if it weren't for the 2005 CBA NBA Draft Rule, Austin would have never attended Duke in the first place.
To paraphrase: NBA-bound high schoolers must attend at least one year of college before entering the draft, be at least one year removed from high school ball (at least 19 years old), unless the player is from a foreign country.
Anyone who follows hoops knew that Austin was ranked #1 on Rivals.com this time last year and was pure NBA-draft material coming straight out of Winter Park High School atop the Florida high school basketball circuit. And anyone who was at last year's NBA Draft at the Prudential Center in Newark might've seen Austin in the lobby ten minutes before the show, chilling with a bigger posse than ICP. From where I stood, about 20 feet away, you could barely see him through the crew, but you could see the limelight shining down on him through the roof.
At the time, had I not been aware of the 2005 CBA Draft Rule, I might've thought Austin was destined to become the No.1 overall pick that day. Little would I have known that Austin was following the footsteps of fellow Duke freshman-stepping-stoner, NJ-native, Kyrie Irving. (RIP St. Pat's - had to.)
Earlier that day, across the Hudson River, in the 14th floor lobby at the Westin Hotel on 8th Avenue and 43rd Street, stood Kyrie Irving. With him was Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, their agents, a few NBA TV producers, and me (I was lucky enough to be tagging along with the film crew, who were doing a piece on the only three former NCAA freshmen projected to be picked in the top ten). The filming complete, all of us were smiling from ear to ear with excitement about the fact that Tristan and Kyrie knew they would be going to Cleveland together, and Brandon, though nothing was 100% locked in, would soon head to Detroit.
Knight, like Rivers, is a former PG Rivals.com #1 ranked player. A rare breed. He completed his mandatory one year of college at Kentucky before being selected ninth by the Pistons. Thompson, who had just finished off an accolade-filled freshman season at Texas, complete with the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year Award, would be selected fourth overall by the Cavs. Irving, fresh off his year at Duke, in which his 28 points failed to lead the Blue Devils past Derrick Williams and the Wildcats in the Sweet 16, would be drafted No. 1 to revive the LeBron-less city of Cleveland with Tristan.
The sense of relief in the room was palpable. All three of them would have chosen to go straight to the League out of high school. The extra year mandated by the NBA, full of potential career-ending injuries was finally over. They had all made it through, without losing their out-of-high-school stock.
I swear, I'd never seen a bunch so happy.
Kyrie was wearing a Kangol hat at the time; everyone was trying to talk him out of wearing it as the elevator descended.
"Take that thing off -- this is a big moment! You're first impression," his agent said. Everyone was laughing. The hat looked ridiculous.
I chimed in, "Yeah, you'll be wearing the nicest hat in the world in about an hour."
Later on at the Draft when I saw Austin, I couldn't help but think: damn, that kid should have his own show.
Lo and behold.
If not for the 2005 NBA Draft Rule, would I have been in that elevator with Austin Rivers that day, with Kyrie somewhere polishing his Rookie of the Year trophy in the D.C. area? (No offense, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Coach K.) Furthermore, did his year with Coach K make him more of a team player, or did it jeopardize his innate ability to dominate?
The numbers don't lie: Duke did not have a good year in 2012, and neither did Austin Rivers, by either of their standards. Was it because Rivers was too focused on his individual future?
Duke did a bit better with Kyrie in 2011, having won the ACC Championship. Granted, Kyrie suffered a toe injury that shortened his Duke career to just 11 games -- not to mention the names Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Still, when it mattered most, Duke fell short in 2011 with Kyrie in the limelight, just as it did in 2012 with Austin in it.
I can't help but think that if Duke had players that weren't affected by the 2005 CBA Draft Rule the past two years they would have played more into Coach K's team system. 'Cuse and UCONN might be able to ride the wings of one player, but not Duke.
When Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and William Avery left Duke early to go to the League in 1999, they had a choice. The three of them led Duke to the championship as an integral part of one of the most talented Duke teams ever, and Brand went on to be named National Player of the Year. They chose to go to Duke instead of entering the Draft out of high school, and they chose to leave early to enter it, and they did it together. Now, players like Kyrie and Austin are forced to attend schools like Duke for a year because it's their best option by default, and they're more alienated than ever.
So maybe the most important question is this: Is the 2005 CBA to blame for two straight lame Duke seasons? Is it hurting college hoops? Not since Carmelo Anthony has an NBA-bound freshman led his team to the national championship. Is that because the best freshmen have been forced to play college ball? Should college coaches overlook players who are planning to use school as a mere stepping stone to the NBA in order to win games?
I say yes.
Austin Rivers was ready for the League last year. He didn't want to go to college -- if he did, he wouldn't be leaving now -- especially after lowering his stock. By trying to protect itself, the NBA's rule undermined both Austin individually as a player, and more importantly, Duke's chances at winning a national championship.
But is the NBA justified? After all, does the rule actually protect their image in the long run?
If you look at the strongest Draft class in the last decade, 2003, one of the last classes that wasn't subjected to the current rule, you might agree that the NBA got it right when they changed the Draft rules in 2005.
LeBron James, straight out of high school, went first, followed by 18-year-old Darko Millicic from Serbia and Montenegro. Melo went third. Chris Bosh, who had just completed his freshman year at Georgia Tech, went fourth. And Dwyane Wade, a junior from Marquette who led his team to the Final Four, went fifth (shout out to Steve Novak, I see you).
LeBron, the youngest of the five, is easily worth the most money today, but to the public eye, has exhibited the most flaws -- the most controversial of the lot during his NBA career.
On the other hand, you have the oldest of the lot, Dwyane Wade, who interestingly, of the five, is the only player to still play for the team that drafted him - not to mention he's the only player with a ring, and the fact that LeBron and Bosh simultaneously gravitated toward him.
But if you look at the 2004 draft, the last class to be drafted before the new CBA was adopted in 2005, you might say the NBA got it wrong.
Dwight Howard was chosen first, straight out of high school, followed by a slew of talented college upperclassmen (Emeka Okafor, Devon Harris, Ben Gordon, Josh Childress, just to name a few). Notably, Luol Deng was taken seventh as the only NCAA freshman in the top ten, ironically, from Duke.
Both Dwight and Deng have quickly come to be recognized as two of the most loyal and fan-friendly players on the planet. And while Harris, Okafor, Gordon, and Childress definitely aren't bad guys, or players, they pale in comparison to the NBA success enjoyed by D12 and the Man from Sudan.
Both this year and last, Duke lost the NCAA's best freshman player to the NBA Draft after suffering early exits in March. How can that happen? One can't help but think that if the 2005 CBA Draft Rule did not exist, Kyrie and Austin would have never gone to Duke, and Duke would have been better off.
Technically, Austin's decision to enter the draft isn't final. But come April, I'd be surprised to see Duke pick up anyone with after-freshman-year NBA Draft ambition for the 2012-13 season.like SBz on facebook - follow SBz on twitter