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NCAA one-and-dones not my style

Duke forward Jabari Parker (1) works against Mercer forward Jakob Goll(20) during first half an NCAA college basketball second-round game

Duke forward Jabari Parker (1) works against Mercer forward Jakob Gollon (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball second-round game, Friday, March 21, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) ORG XMIT: NCMS105

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Updated: March 23, 2014 11:28PM



Forget for a moment how mangled your brackets are and that you’re not going to win Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar NCAA men’s basketball tournament challenge. (You do realize the odds of a filling out a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, right?)

Instead, think about the two ways you’re seeing Division I college basketball played. The first is with mostly juniors and seniors, guys in their 20s. The second is with young superstars, freshman teenagers who are — or aspire to be — one-and-dones.

There is no better contrast than Mercer and Kentucky.

Mercer starts five seniors. The little-known team from Macon, Ga., met its match Sunday against Tennessee, but not before it knocked off famed and favored Duke 78-71 on Friday. Duke, of course, has six McDonald’s high school All-Americans on its squad, including freshman sensation Jabari Parker.

There wasn’t a college team in the country that wouldn’t have taken Parker out of Simeon, but the mighty Mike Krzyzewski got him. Coach K’s coup made Duke a preseason favorite to contend for the NCAA title.

Real-world result? Duke and Parker looked dazed and confused in losing to Mercer and its veterans.

Then there’s Kentucky, which starts five freshmen. The Wildcats have seven McDonald’s high school All-Americans and seven potential first-round NBA draft picks. Kentucky was so loaded with incoming freshman stars, including monster big man Julius Randle, that it was the preseason No. 1 team. Fans in Lexington wore T-shirts that read, ‘‘40-0.’’

Uh, not quite. Kentucky has lost 10 games this season, including an early one to Michigan State in which Randle had 27 points, 13 rebounds and eight turnovers. And but one assist.

If you have freshman stars on your team, you might win it all, as Kentucky did in 2012 with three freshman starters. Or you might blow up like a badly wired computer.

Kentucky has changed since the start of the season, as was evident by Randle having a season-high six assists in the Wildcats’ dramatic victory Sunday against previously undefeated Wichita State. Coach John Calipari must know how to reach these kids because a new crop comes in each season.

So you take your chances with superstar teens. And the vast majority of colleges has no chance of getting one to enroll there. The celebrity coaches and huge programs snare them all.

Blame this one-year-and-out phenomenon on the NBA, if you’d like. There was a time when you had to be past your senior year to play pro ball, and there was a time when you could go from high school to the NBA. But this one-year-after-high-school deal the NBA has concocted puts elite college teams in a devious relationship with education.

So how about this for an answer: Don’t go after the one-and-dones at all.

The Mercers, Daytons and Harvards of the world — all with upsets in the tourney — are loaded with upperclassmen, players who grow, learn and form cohesive units as they do things such as go to class and bond for three, four and sometimes even five years together.

If I were a coach at a school such as Northwestern, which never has been to the NCAA tournament and has no history whatsoever to unroll before recruits, I would build with players who will peak as seniors.

Let’s just say I’m NU coach Chris Collins. I would go after fellows such as Drew Crawford, a redshirt senior, a young man who turned into a fine player and a leader. I wouldn’t recruit the Randles or Parkers of the world.

Kansas had three freshman starters, including all-universe Andrew Wiggins. And what happened to it against 12-loss Stanford and its upperclassmen? It lost. Wiggins had a mere four points on 1-for-6 shooting and committed four turnovers. And now he’ll be gone from Kansas forever.

Give me a senior such as Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early or Creighton’s Doug McDermott any day over Wiggins. How can you have any chemistry when your players still are meeting each other come tournament time?

With one-and-dones, you’re renting for a season. With players who are going to stick around, you’re building a structure. You’ve got a team, not a road show.

I like the fact that Florida has four senior starters, and I remember well when tiny, senior-laden Butler almost knocked off Duke for the 2010 national championship.

Of course, back then, Duke had a bunch of upperclassmen on its team, too.

Duke was smarter then.



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