Philadelphia If NBA commissioner David Stern has his way in the next collective-bargaining agreement, college players will be barred from entering the league until they are 20 years old, ending an era in which teenagers make the leap from high school to the pros.
If such a rule goes into effect, one of its ramifications seems obvious: The talent level in the college game would rise. If it had been in effect during the last decade, players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady would have spent at least one year playing college hoops, more likely two.
It also seems quite possible that players of that caliber, who would have their choice of colleges, would select the traditional powerhouses, such as Duke, North Carolina, Kansas University and Arizona, and make it more difficult for other schools to create the kind of excitement in March that Saint Joseph's and Villanova did the last two seasons.
"I think that could happen," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "But if you look at some programs who have had players like that for a year or two, they haven't always flourished. You'll still have situations like a Wisconsin or West Virginia, where you have a bunch of fourth- and fifth-year guys beating guys who were there for one or two years.
"I do think more of the elite players might go to the same group of schools, but those schools already have advantages. I'm not sure that Duke or North Carolina or an Arizona or a UConn are going to have that much more of an advantage. You'll still have teams who don't have players who were ranked in the top 10 coming out of high school but have players who have been together three, four years, beating teams that might have very good talent but are young and inexperienced."
With virtually the same team that scared the daylights out of eventual champion North Carolina returning next season, Villanova appears poised to make a serious run at the Final Four in March. The Wildcats will have the proper mix for success -- talent and experience, a group hardened by staying together through difficult times.
To a purist, it might seem unfair that a team such as Villanova be derailed by a team with a player or two making pit stops on their way to the NBA.
"I can see the thought process behind that theory," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Yet, Wright doesn't necessarily subscribe to the theory that elite high school players denied the opportunity to go directly to the NBA will select the same relatively few colleges. He said players knowing they're going to leave college after two years might tend to stay close to home.
"If they know they're going only for a year or two, they might not want to go to Kansas or somewhere, and instead stay around home for a year or two. That's what I'm hoping," he said with a laugh.
Wright said he was torn over the proposed 20-year-old limit. He said he believed a high school player had the right to go out and make a living playing basketball, but he also believes it will help save players who opt for the draft out of high school and end up fading into oblivion.