- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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This is that special time of the year when the nation's best freshman basketball players appear in front of the TV cameras, say that deep in their hearts they'll always be a Bruin-Wildcat-Trojan-Tiger-blah, blah, blah, and then announce their decision to leave school for "the next level."
That's what UCLA's Kevin Love said: "I'm in the right spot to take my game to the next level."
That's what Kansas State's Michael Beasley said: "It's time for me to take my game to the next level."
That's what Memphis' Derrick Rose sort of said: " I feel that it is the right time for me to take this step."
That's what Arizona's Jerryd Bayless sort of said: "It's the right time to move on."
That's what they all say: Love, Beasley, Rose, Bayless, USC's O.J. Mayo, Indiana's Eric Gordon, maybe even Beasley's K-State freshman teammate, Bill Walker. The basketball Class of 2011 just became the One and Dones.
First of all, if the NCAA and the NBA really want to improve our lives, they'll outlaw the use of "the next level." While we're at it, no athlete is allowed to say, "It's not about the money," because, dude, we know it's about the money. And on a more general note, no airline pilot is allowed to say, "Well, folks, we're just waiting on some paperwork and then we'll be on our way." There is no paperwork. You're stalling. Just go ahead and tell us the flight's been delayed 40 minutes.
Anyway, technically speaking, the "next level" for these guys is the National Basketball Developmental League. The next level after that is the NBA.
The NBA isn't kidding when it says its league is where Amazing Happens. Amazing because the NBA forces the very best high school players to wait until they're 19 (or one year removed from their high school graduation) before they can declare for the NBA draft.
That's the only reason why Love spent a season at Westwood, Mayo at L.A., Beasley at Manhattan, Rose at Memphis, Gordon at Bloomington. What a deal. The NBA gets a free minor league system, and the college programs rent a star player for nothing more than the price of room, tuition and books.
And, as usual, the player is used as a commodity. He becomes -- what's the term? -- "product."
USC coach Tim Floyd didn't attend Mayo's farewell news conference. But he did issue a statement thanking Mayo, who wore NBA logo socks in his final game, for "everything O.J. did for all of us the year he was with us."
What Mayo did was increase average attendance at USC's Galen Center from 5,798 a year ago to 9,647. Cha-ching.
Anyway, Floyd will soon welcome USC signee DeMar DeRozan, " probably the best NBA prospect on the West Coast and maybe in the country," Floyd told the Los Angeles Times.
In other words, another one and done.
Meanwhile, K-State coach Frank Martin told reporters at Beasley's recent news conference that "Mike has put our brand out there again, let people know Kansas State basketball is back, and he's put us on national television."
Branding. Television exposure. Revitalized K-State hoops. That's super.
Now then, what exactly did Kansas State do for Beasley?
Sorry, but I'm not seeing the upside for the players here. Everybody conveniently benefits from this mandatory, one-year sentence except the actual freshmen.
K-State gets its precious brand and TV games. USC gets its attendance spike. UCLA gets to the Final Four. Memphis does too, and coach John Calipari gets a new contract.
As for NBA teams, their scouts get a whole year to evaluate the freshman talent against college, not high school players. And here's the best part: The NCAA provides the talent free of charge!
In return, the players are deprived of the opportunity to go directly from high school to the NBA, even if their games are ready or near-ready. They also risk injury. IU's Gordon and his left wrist can tell you all about it.
Did I mention how academic integrity takes it in the shorts? These freshman stars are only required to attend at least one semester's worth of school. Once the season is finished and they declare for the pros, anything goes. They can phone it in, skip classes or quit altogether.
Of course, the downside to that is something called the Academic Progress Rating. If a program's APR is too low, the NCAA can take away future scholarships. So if, say, Mayo, decides to quit going to classes this spring semester, USC pays the price.
The entire arrangement needs a bar of soap and a shower. Worse yet, there's talk of the NBA possibly adding another year to the draft ban. Dumb.
The NBA ought to get out of the minimum age requirement business. After all, amazing happened when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted an 18-year-old King James, and when the Charlotte Hornets drafted a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant.
And the NCAA ought to get out of the enabling business. Being at school isn't the same thing as being in school. Rationalize it any way you want, but one and done is mercenary sports, nothing more.
But if the NBA insists on an age minimum, then the least it can do is consider Major League Baseball's draft stance. It isn't perfect, but it beats this mess.
MLB drafts high school players. But if you sign with a four-year college instead of the pros, then you have to wait until after your junior season (or 21st birthday) to be eligible for the draft again. If you drop out of college, you have to petition the commissioner's office for entry into the draft.
No more one and dones. No more one-semester students. This way you give everyone a choice: the NBA, the high school stars and the D-I programs.
It's what you call, "taking it to the next level."
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allowing players to go pro after one year in college doesn't benefit anybody.