Say what you want about the NBA's new age restriction-it may have saved college basketball. With the nation's best high-school basketball players routinely bypassing the college game, college basketball had lost much of its luster outside of March.
What hath the NBA's new rule barring high-school seniors from entering the league until at least one year after graduation wrought? The return of the best talent to the college basketball stage, and perhaps more importantly, storylines. Can Texas freshman Kevin Durant actually win the Naismith College Player of the Year award as an 18-year-old? Will the defensive presence of Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden be enough to vault the talented Buckeyes to a national championship?
Emerging to the head of the freshman class when Oden was sidelined by wrist surgery, Durant raises a dilemma for Naismith voters: No freshman has ever won Player of the Year honors. Through 26 games, Durant has averaged 24.9 points and 11.5 rebounds-good for top 10 standing in both categories. The other top candidate, Wisconsin senior Alando Tucker, averages 20.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Still, few believe Durant can even be the top pick in the 2007 NBA draft if he exits school. Most NBA general managers agree that distinction belongs to Oden if he chooses to enter the league. Playing most of the year without much use of his dominant right hand, Oden has still managed to score 15.4 points and grab 9.4 rebounds per game. But it's the 7-foot center's defensive presence that most NBA scouts crave.
Not all coaches are sold on the implications of the NBA's age restrictions, though. Texas Tech coach Bob Knight says the rule is ruining the purity of the game. "Because now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class," said the coaching legend. "He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester. I'm not exactly positive about the first semester. . . . That, I think, has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports."
For the record, media reports indicate both Oden and Durant are attending class and making grades. Durant notched a solid B average in his first semester at Texas. No slouch, Oden graduated from high school with a 3.7 GPA. Both have said they might even return to school for a second year. Which may be an unintended consequence of the NBA's rule: Some players pegged for one-and-done NCAA careers might actually fall in love with college life and linger past their first March Madness.
BASEBALL: And now for something completely different: a professional athlete who turns down easy money. Feeling as if his body couldn't withstand another major league season, Cleveland reliever Keith Foulke retired just before spring training. If Foulke had decided to show up for spring training and then retire, he could have earned $5 million from the club. But Foulke, who signed with the Indians after three seasons at Boston, apparently didn't want to earn the cash under false pretenses. In a statement, an Indians executive praised Foulke for his integrity and character.
NASCAR: The inauspicious start for Toyota in NASCAR was cemented by the results of the Daytona 500. Toyota's top finisher, Dale Jarrett, took 22nd place while 11 Chevrolet cars finished ahead of him-six of which finished in the top 10. Kevin Harvick's team survived a late caution flag to take home the $1.5 million top prize in NASCAR's first big event of 2007.
TENNIS: With fresh world rankings released Feb. 19, tennis star Roger Federer equaled Jimmy Connors' streak of 160 weeks atop the ATP tour rankings. Downplaying his achievements, the Swiss tennis pro said, "Breaking records and doing something that hasn't been done for a long time, it's really nice." Federer notes he's still looking for his first Grand Slam title on a clay surface.