2017 NBA Draft reminds us that freshmen and the ACC dominate college basketball Sport News

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2017 NBA Draft reminds us that freshmen and the ACC dominate college basketball Sport News

NEW YORK -— NBA Draft results don’t always correlate with how we see the landscape of college basketball. For starters, players are routinely taken higher than their college stats suggest they should be, or vice-versa. If anything, the draft often serves as a reminder of how the NBA and college hoops function very differently and, particularly through the eyes of scouting, the two might as well be distant cousins rather than blood relatives as a sport.

But Thursday night was different. The 2017 draft was a referendum on college basketball as we’ve come to know it in a contemporary sense. The event served as a mirror on college hoops’ biggest selling points and, even if for a cycle, showed us that one league and one genre of player have become home to the biggest storylines in the sport. We’re coming off a banner year for college basketball and the threads of those 2016-17 themes connected to results that were born here in Brooklyn on Thursday night. 

We’ll start with the assembly line of freshmen. For three-plus years, the high school class of 2016 has been advertised as one of the most opulent, potently talented classes of the past decade and a half. The play last season of Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson, Lauri Markkanen, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., — the list goes on; I’m essentially giving you a lottery recap here — validated that. 

So, history had to be made at Barclays Center. A draft-record 16 freshmen were selected in the first round with two more coming in the second round, including Duke’s Frank Jackson being the first pick of the back half of the draft. Reinforcing the idea that college basketball has become freshman-dominated, the previous record was 13 first-round frosh selectees, and that was two years ago. The only seniors taken in the first round were nabbed with the final two picks: Derrick White of Colorado and Josh Hart of Villanova. White shares something in common with Fultz, Jackson, Monk and the others in that he has only one year of Division I experience. 

There will be forever be intrigue with the unknown. Drafting on potential is the starting point. Drafting off proof and age is plan B. 

Two seniors going in the first round is also a record – a record-low. Per the NBA, no draft in the “common” era (since 1966) has been so slim on seniors. Conversely, the first 10 college players picked were freshmen. The first seven picks overall were freshmen, which broke the previous record of four. That was set in 2014.  

Evidence of these players’ legitimacy at the NBA level obviously remains to be seen, and it is a mortal certainty that a handful of freshman lottery picks will flame out. But that’s another discussion and a separate argument. The point here is that these freshmen met their collective expectation from high school, through a stopover in college, and in becoming lottery choices. Destiny mostly fulfilled. 

First-year players in college basketball have become such a major selling point. They’re so intrinsically, more than ever, tied to the publicity of the sport. Every year it seems like that’s more true than the season prior. Considering how many freshmen were taken Thursday, it’s fairly factual. 

We’ve hit the peak of college basketball needing freshmen to bolster the sport. Many of these players, now out the NCAA’s door, are poised to be decade-long mainstays in the pros. Some claim to hate the one-and-done, but college hoops is without debate better now than it would be without the NBA’s age minimum. 

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Pictured: freshmen everywhere. A frosh fest took over the first round.
USATSI

Look at it this way. How many players returning to college next season can you name? Yep, there’s Grayson Allen and, well, who else you got? Devonte’ Graham, Joel Berry II, Miles Bridges and Allonzo Trier pop to mind if you’re really up on the game. But most basketball fans know more names of the young guys who were taken on Thursday night than those coming back. That’s the double-edged sword of college hoops these days. 

It’s something that will obviously be on the mind of NBA commissioner Adam Silver as he navigates through potential changes to draft eligibility rules. 

There was another big winner Thursday night. Because if we’re not writing and blabbing about freshmen in college hoops, then what are we often discussing? The power and depth of conferences, with one particular conference at the center. 

In recent years, there has been one league that’s stood out beyond others for its depth, talent, NCAA Tournament bids and March Madness success: the ACC. On Thursday night, the league cashed in big publicity, as a pick out of the ACC scrolled across the screen every few minutes. Eight of the first 20 players picked, and 12 of the top 32, came from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Fourteen of the 60 picks — and more than nearly 30 percent of the college players taken — came from the ACC.

This coming off what was one of the best seasons, if not the best season, ever in the ACC. The conference set a league record in NCAA Tournament bids (nine) and produced six of the top 15 picks. The Pac-12 also had itself a great night, matching the ACC with 14 selections and setting a conference record. That’s a big step for a league that’s always fighting for more relevancy and respect, and I know it speaks to the Pac-12’s challenges that I lean with the ACC talk here. But the Pac-12 sent four teams to the NCAAs last season, and it just got its first Final Four team (Oregon) in a decade.

The ACC is responsible for three of the past five national champions (Louisville’s banner hanging in the balance), four Hall of Fame coaches and 67 draft picks since 2012, by far the most of any conference. As long as Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim are still going, that’s not going to slow. The ACC benefits from its blue bloods, posse of Hall of Fame coaches and, by remaining the most interesting and buzzworthy conference. This past season turned out to be a dovetail for freshmen and ACC powers. Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Louisville, Syracuse, Miami, Florida State, North Carolina State and Clemson all had players taken Thursday night.

And while the ACC is likely to keep pumping out picks at a near-double-digit rate, let’s remember that although this was an aberrational year for freshmen, the reality is college basketball has come to rely on first-year players just as much, if not more so, than its veterans. That’s OK. From an entertainment perspective, having rented Kevin Durant, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons and dozens more hasn’t hurt the sport. If anything, it’s brought more attention (and worthwhile discussion) than it would have otherwise had.

Know this: Freshmen have, by far, accounted for the highest percentage of draft picks (more than 40 percent) since the NBA’s age minimum took effect 2006. Thursday night was more than a microcosm, it was a culmination of what college basketball and NBA scouting have become. This freshman-heavy draft might not ever be touched again. Sixteen freshmen in the first 30 picks? This is what Silver is afraid of. If he wants to rid the NBA of this, and try to help college basketball in this process, then 2017 could signal the end of an era.

At a time when freshmen have never been more coveted, their domination of the 2017 NBA Draft could be the transpiration that prompts permanent change for the league and for college basketball. This sets up as a historic freshman class in more ways that one. 

2017 NBA Draft reminds us that freshmen and the ACC dominate college basketball Sport News

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2017 NBA Draft reminds us that freshmen and the ACC dominate college basketball Sport News

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