March Madness isn’t the NBA talent sneak preview it used to be

Players may have fame during the NCAA tournament, but few will go on to be NBA superstars.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

By Rosalyn R. Ross

It’s that time of the year again.

You know the time when people who know nothing about sports in general, much less college basketball in particular, become some of Blah Blah State’s and You Know Who University’s biggest fans all while making bold predictions about winners and losers.

It’s March Madness but, it actually culminates in a championship game that happens in April. It’s fun, exciting, unpredictable and dramatic.

It’s also a time when NBA fans lament over the decline in talent in college hoops and worry about how that (perceived) reality might play out on the NBA stage.

It’s been a long time since any of us, while watching an NCAA men’s basketball game without a team in blue and white jerseys with the word Kentucky across the front, felt like we were watching a team of true NBA prospects.

Even the best players on really good teams at some of the country’s marquee programs present little more than the promise of NBA potential coupled with sizable lists of areas for improvement before any real impact at the next level is possible.

While the NCAA tournament used to feel like an amateur showcase of who had next in the pros, it’s now become as reliable a predictor of impending success as your co-worker’s bracket.

The word “now” in that previous sentence might require a bit of demarcation though since a look back at the last 20 years of NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (MOP) winners might suggest that we’ve been in the dark about this stuff much longer than we would like to think.

Of the 20 names on that list; seven – Richard Hamilton (1999), Shane Battier (2001), Carmelo Anthony (2003), Joakim Noah (2006), Mario Chalmers (2008), Kemba Walker (2011) and Anthony Davis (2012) – have become household names in the NBA.

Of that seven, only three – Anthony, Noah and Davis – have enjoyed NBA careers that rightfully seemed to have picked up where their one shining moment left off.

In the newly recurring debate about what’s wrong with college basketball and what can be done to fix it, a little bit of the blame always makes it way around to the NBA with its warm reception of the NCAA’s one and dones. Those that point the finger would say that surely the game at the professional level might stand to benefit from draftees that are more mature and have spent more time developing their skills at the college level with the help of a knowledgeable coach, right?

Maybe.

Two of the MOPs above make that bet interesting. Carmelo Anthony spent one year at Syracuse before becoming an NBA superstar. Anthony Davis played one year at Kentucky, is a superstar in the making and a future league MVP.

Not to mention the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant, was a one and done. Oh and the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James, never went to college. And neither did Kobe Bryant, the closest thing we’ve seen to the great Michael Jordan since we’ve been dreaming of the next Michael Jordan.

NBA execs might be willing to go as far as to admit that the system isn’t perfect but, it isn't all bad either.

Besides, no more than 450 people in the world will be on an NBA roster in any given season and that number is more than ridiculously disproportionate to the number of kids who are working their backsides off everyday to be on one.

Try to remember that when you’re watching college hoops these next couple of weeks.

Instead of philosophizing on all that should be, savor the moment for what it is.

Because ultimately, for nearly all those kids out there, it will be all there ever was of their basketball careers.

 

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