NBA labor strife benefits NCAA game

David Stern finally has done something to help the college game.

All I keep hearing is that the NBA commissioner could care less about college basketball, how the one-and-done rule affecting the amateur game doesn’t matter to him — and neither does the fact agents have further permeated high schools and colleges.

But, now, with the upgraded concern over an impending NBA lockout, there will be no larger beneficiary than college hoops.

The talent level will receive a much-needed replenishment.

Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger wasted no time after the Buckeyes were knocked out of the NCAA tournament when he told reporters he was coming back to school despite the near certainty he would be a lottery pick.

I’m not sure how much the thought of a lockout played into his decision — if at all — and I don’t care.

It started a virtual domino effect with some of the top players.

Next came North Carolina’s Twin Towers — John Henson and Tyler Zeller. The long and talented Henson is more highly regarded by NBA folks, but both were considered surefire first-round picks in June’s NBA draft, with Henson a likely lottery guy.

They will be back in Chapel Hill next season.

The shocker came Monday afternoon when Baylor’s prized freshman, Perry Jones III, a potential No. 1 overall pick, made the announcement that he wasn’t going anywhere yet.

Jones told FOXSports.com that the lockout wasn’t an overriding factor in his decision but that it did play a part in his decision.

“I need to work on my strength and become more mature before I get to the next level,” Jones said. “Staying in college was the best decision for me.”

If you’re counting, that’s three of the elite underclassmen who have decided to spurn millions in favor of the classroom.

Another year of school isn’t for everyone. Duke freshman Kyrie Irving’s collegiate career is history after a toe injury and just 11 games. Kansas’ Morris twins — Marcus and Markieff — weren’t scared off by the lockout. The same is true for Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt, who announced they won’t be returning to school.

But college basketball already has won with the return of Sullinger, Jones and Henson.

And Henson’s teammate, freshman Harrison Barnes, could be next.

Barnes, another potential No. 1 overall pick, likely will make his decision next week on whether he’ll return for his sophomore campaign. There have been numerous reports that suggest Barnes is leaning toward spurning the NBA.

While Sullinger and Jones both maintain that a potential NBA work stoppage didn’t play an integral role in their decision, it is a factor.

“It is — especially for me,” said Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack, who announced Tuesday he was declaring for the draft but wouldn’t sign with an agent. “I’m like a late first-rounder or a second-rounder, and if I stay in and go in the second round, it’ll be tough because there probably won’t be workouts for me to make the team.”

Mack is admittedly confused but has heard from numerous people there will, in fact, be a work stoppage of some kind. He, like most of these kids, is completely in the dark about how long it will last.

“It’s definitely had an impact on me,” added Georgia Tech junior Iman Shumpert, who also has declared without hiring an agent to preserve his eligibility. “It’s a hard decision. You’ve got to go with your gut.”

While the lockout certainly has made it easier for kids to return to school, guys like Mack and Shumpert, who have been told they are on the fringe of being taken in the first round, also have to process the fact this is considered a lackluster draft this year.

It might be the worst in a couple of decades.

The homegrown crop is so brutal that DraftExpress.com projects that five of the top 10 picks will be imports.

“It’s the weakest I can ever remember,” one NBA executive said. “And now with all these guys coming back to school, it’s going to be brutal.”

“The 15th pick will be like ordinarily having the 25th pick,” another pro guy said.

So that might force a few of those fence-sitters to roll the dice and see if they can earn a guaranteed contract by sliding up into the first round.

People might not want to admit it, but college basketball lacked star power this past season. When BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette sweeps all the national player of the year honors, it’s a clear sign the talent level has spiraled downward.

And there’s another fairly ho-hum freshman class set to arrive on college campuses this fall.

Luckily, we have the NBA lockout on the horizon.

So thank you, commissioner Stern.