NEW YORK — Less than a month into its season, the general sports fan's appetite for college basketball seems to be greater than usual.
Headlines rave about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. NBA executives and fans are already debating who they'd take No. 1 in June's NBA draft. Ratings for the Nov. 12 matchup of No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State were exceptionally strong; ESPN said it averaged 4 million viewers and was the network's second-most viewed non-conference college basketball game ever.
Last season much was made about college basketball lacking star power. Now, after months of hype and fewer than three weeks of games, it appears these three freshmen (and others, such as Arizona's Aaron Gordon) have what the sport was missing. Their dunks go viral; they've become household names.
But is it a good thing that the faces of the game are making a one-year pit stop? One of college basketball's most distinguished voices says no.
"Nationally, I'm a little bit worried that that is always becoming a thing," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told a small group of reporters Tuesday at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. "I think part of it is that people who show our games show NBA, too. So, the constant thought is cross-promoting. ... I love ESPN, and I think they should do whatever they want to do. But what I'm saying is, in some ways, we as a college basketball community should not completely buy into that."
Krzyzewski pointed out that veterans such as Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Creighton's Doug McDermott "may be the two best" players in the country, but they are getting overshadowed by the attention surrounding the star freshmen (including Parker, his own).
"In college basketball, you should not want to tell one story," Krzyzewski said. "If the one story you're telling is a lead-in to not even your sport, then somehow our sport needs to control that more. That's my take on it. That's why I think there should be a commissioner for basketball. I think we should work together. I'm not knocking anyone. You want ratings. We have to be careful. We have to sell our product."
The "one-and-done" phenomenon has affected college basketball in many ways, directly and residually since the rule was implemented in 2005. It's changed the ways certain coaches recruit, creating uncertainty and greater roster turnover. It's morphed the mindset of many college players; simply reaching the NBA eventually is no longer the goal — they feel they have to get there as soon as possible. Worst of all from a branding standpoint, it's sent the players who should be college basketball's biggest stars for multiple years into the NBA, which can use them to promote its league and its teams. College basketball's biggest voices — Krzyzewski included — can't change things because it's an NBA rule.
Instead, coaches have to figure out how to work with players who willbe on campus for only about nine months, which presents a host of challenges, including fending off agents and third-party influences. And meanwhile, much to the dismay of some coaches and veteran players — notably, Smart, whose comments about Wiggins receiving so much hype before stepping on the court were viewed as criticism and shot-taking — lots of experienced, talented players are being essentially ignored or, at the very least, undervalued.
The long-term effect of this trend is unclear. But the short-term benefits — more eyeballs watching Wiggins/Parker/Randle, more clicks on a website — are both appealing and concerning.
"It's (a) unique (freshman class), but next year could be unique," Krzyzewski said. "You could have 15 years of unique. What does that do to our game?"