- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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So, here's the task: How are you going to sell college basketball this season?
Whom do you have to market? Tyler Hansbrough? Well, if you're trying to come up with the consensus All-American, Hansbrough is probably your guy. The North Carolina junior forward was easily the first name that came to mind when coaches and players were polled informally over the past month.
But seriously, is Hansbrough really the face of the sport this season? Is he going to be what sells college hoops? I mean, he's what you want as a three- to four-year player, always busting his tail, producing and leading his team toward conference titles and, last season, deep into March. But is he the face? Is he the one person who will be the drawing card? As talented as Hansbrough is, he's still an in-the-trench player who doesn't crave fame, nor does he seem to ham it up when the cameras come along.
"The face of college basketball? I guess if you ask me, Tyler Hansbrough, but let me think -- ahh you can't say anyone is the face of college basketball this year," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
"There probably isn't one face that I can think of," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.
"I don't know," Michigan State senior guard Drew Neitzel said.
"You can't even get a consensus in our league," Calhoun said of the Big East.
"I'm going to include myself," said Indiana redshirt junior forward D.J. White. "You've got Roy Hibbert [Georgetown]; Drew, of course. Tyler Hansbrough. There will be different guys, I think. It's a balanced deal, and you've got guys in the West, guys I played with this summer like Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low."
Really? Weaver and Low of Washington State are the faces of college basketball? Let's keep trying.
"I hope it's Chris Douglas-Roberts," said Memphis coach John Calipari of his junior guard who probably wouldn't be recognized outside the Memphis area.
"No, it probably could be one of the freshmen," Calipari said. "Yeah, maybe one of the freshmen."
The reality is that, for the first time in years, there aren't many recognizable returning players at the start of the season. The general public probably isn't completely familiar with Neitzel, Tennessee's Chris Lofton or Hibbert, but fans might have heard about the incoming freshmen such as O.J. Mayo (USC), Kevin Love (UCLA), Eric Gordon (Indiana), Derrick Rose (Memphis) and Michael Beasley (Kansas State). The hype for this class, much like that of last season's freshman crop, has been going on for months, if not years, as the recruiting scene receives more national attention.
There is actually a good chance the hyped freshmen are more recognizable than the majority of returning upperclassmen.
"You may not see another Redick or Morrison anymore," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team includes a nationally known freshman in Kyle Singler. "You can't have both."
Krzyzewski's point is quite simple: Most of those high-profile freshmen aren't going to make it to their junior and senior seasons.
They are not likely to stay in college, not with the new NBA draft rule that befuddles Krzyzewski as to why it was adopted. The rule -- put in place a year ago -- essentially forces the elite, NBA-ready high school senior to go to college for at least a year because he may not enter the draft until he is a year out of high school and 19 years old.
That's why freshmen such as Durant (consensus player of the year), Oden (led Ohio State to the title game), Mike Conley Jr. (also a key member of Ohio State), Brandan Wright (North Carolina), Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech), and Spencer Hawes (Washington) bolted the college ranks after one season for the top half of the NBA draft's first round.
Krzyzewski would like to see either the old rule back in place so the high school senior can jump directly to the NBA or a new rule that requires those who choose to go to college to stay there for at least two years. There is no indication that the NBA and its players' association are going to change the collective bargaining agreement on this issue when it comes up again. But by keeping a player in school for at least two years, Krzyzewski said, the integrity of the institution is kept somewhat intact because a player will complete four semesters and possibly two summers of school while working toward a degree.
"Everyone said the rule is great, and look at what Durant and Oden did," Krzyzewski said. "I know Durant, and he could be on our [2008 Olympic team] and he'll represent well, and they're both good kids. But what did they take? They're not here anymore. I'm not sold the one-year deal is a good thing and that it's good for the true meaning of being a student. It's good for the NBA, but maybe not for college."
The trickle-down effect is that this setup takes away the marketable faces of the sport. And when it does that and there aren't the headline acts among the upperclassmen, then the most important thing to promote once again is the teams.
Memphis coach Calipari said he has always looked at the name on the back of the jersey as the most important -- if you have a stud, then you have a chance. Krzyzewski is the complete opposite. He has always been about the name on the front of the jersey. And quite frankly, that's why brands such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana and, this decade, Connecticut and Florida, are the easy sell.
"I'm a team guy, so I'm going to say the face of the sport is UCLA anyway," Love said. "When I think about college basketball, I think of UCLA."
That's good because the reality is that until someone from the freshman class -- such as Mayo, Love, Rose or Gordon -- pulls a Durant or Oden and becomes the face of the sport for this season, or an upperclassman such as Hibbert, Neitzel, Lofton or White elevates himself above everyone else, you must continue to have brand loyalty.
"The NBA is always promoting its players," Krzyzewski said. "We don't want to do that in college. We don't want that. It's the name on the front, not the back."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Unlike in previous seasons, there's not one identifiable, consensus face of college basketball this season. Who's going to step up into that role?