As the final fourteen seconds ticked down in Donald L. Tucker Collessium in Talahasee Florida, on Saturday afternoon, UNC star Harrison Barnes walked with most of his team to the locker room. He may have thought ‘I could be losing in the NBA right now.’ He’s right, of course; he could be losing in the NBA. If he had declared for the draft and left North Carolina after last season, Barnes would likely have been a top three picks, perhaps going 2nd to the Timberwolves, who need a player like Barnes more than another power forward, which is who they got in Derrick Williams. If that had happened, the Seminoles would still have beaten the Tar Heels. We wouldn’t all have been as amazed though. It would have been our loss.
As it turned out, Barnes and a slew of other NBA prospects returned to college for another season rather than enter the draft, get picked in the lottery, and risk what turned into a messy ‘labour’ dispute which ate one fifth of the season. That gave us the best hoops moment of the weekend, pros included. It gave us Barnes and his Heels being topped by 1 by #1 Kentucky, who’s Sophomore Terrence Jones went 14 and 7. In a normal NBA offseason, he too is likely drafted, and currently toiling for a big league lottery team. He was there though, contributing to a classic. A week later Jones had four points and six turnovers in another thriller; this time a one point loss at Indiana.
The NCAA hoops fan is the clear winner of the NBA lockout. This early list of contenders for Player of the Year includes only two players who would likely have gone in the lottery, and therefore would just as likely have gone professional before this season, if it were a normal one. However,that’s assuming that Jeremy Lamb was always coming back. Jared Sullinger is first on the list, and his intentions always seemed to be to return to Ohio State, but players have often reversed enthusiastic public positions to become lottery picks; especially number one, which Sullinger could have been.
In the top ten picks of last year’s NBA draft, there were a combined 12 years of NCAA experience, and 1/3 of them belonged to #10 pick Jimmer Freddette. This year projections have the top ten leaving with about 18 years of experience. That 50% increase is likely to hold, or even increase slightly when the season is complete and draft intentions are declared. In short, a handful of top players remained in the NCAA for a year longer than they normally would have. Will this extra year at the college level help those players develop? Perhaps. Already this fortunate fallout of the NBA lockout has contributed to an entertaining year, which promises to finish with a tournament which will be exciting as it always is. This year though, it will have a little more star power.