- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo have no intention of playing for one-and-done teams in the NCAA tournament.

Their college futures may be another matter.

Many of the nation’s top freshmen, including Beasley of Kansas State and Mayo of Southern Cal, are expected to make this year’s tourney their final college basketball showcase before heading to the NBA.

Beasley and Mayo are hardly alone. Among those expected to join them in June’s draft are Eric Gordon of Indiana, Derrick Rose of Memphis, and possibly Kevin Love of UCLA and Jerryd Bayless of Arizona.

None are hinting about their future plans, but fans at Indiana and Memphis recently began chanting “one more year,” trying to get Gordon and Rose to stick around.

“I’ve got plenty more to come,” Rose insisted after Saturday’s Conference USA title game.

When asked if that meant he would return, Rose said: “I don’t know about that. I’ll have to wait and see. I’m just loving it right now. I just don’t want this to end.”

How good are these fabulous freshmen?

Consider the numbers:

• Beasley, Gordon, Mayo and Bayless were among the nation’s top 37 scorers.

• Beasley and Love finished among the nation’s top 11 rebounders.

• Beasley, Gordon, Love and Rose were freshman of the year in their respective conferences, while Mayo was a first-team all-Pac 10 choice and Bayless made the second team.

• Each has a team poised to make a tournament run in what could be their farewell tour.

Some think the selection committee likes to put its best talent on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Committee chairman Tom O’Connor was asked about that Sunday night after the pairings were announced. The question was whether Beasley, who averages 26.5 points and 12.4 rebounds, helped the Wildcats get one of the 34 at-large bids.

“We really look at the team as a whole,” O’Connor said. “We can’t put anybody into the tournament because of one player. We put teams in the tournament, we don’t put players in the tournament. He is a very good player, though.”

Using the NCAA tournament as an exit lane is hardly a new phenomenon.

Seniors often talk about making a last-ditch push to reach the Final Four and deep tournament runs often force underclassmen to cash in on the NBA’s big bucks.

Just last year, Ohio State lost three freshmen to the NBA after losing in the title game, and Florida lost four juniors after winning its second straight national championship.

Sometimes, even coaches are caught by surprise. In 2001, Arizona lost to Duke in the national championship game, then had four starters declare early for the draft, including some coach Lute Olson didn’t believe were NBA prospects when he recruited them.

The landscape, however, has changed dramatically. When the NBA adopted a rule requiring high school players to wait a year after graduation before entering the draft, the one-year wonders became more commonplace in college basketball.

The results have been mixed.

Ohio State used the tag-team tandem of Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. to reach the 2007 title game, but was left out this year. Florida also missed this year’s tournament after last year’s exodus, marking the first time since 1980 that both NCAA finalists from the previous year missed the tournament.

With so much talent in this year’s freshman class, it could happen again.

Beasley’s record-setting season helped Kansas State draw one of the last at-large bids. Gordon won the Big Ten scoring title as the Hoosiers won their most regular-season games since 1992-93, and UCLA and Memphis each earned No. 1 seeds in large part because of Love, who averaged 17.1 points and 10.6 rebounds, and Rose, who averaged 13.9 points and had 153 assists.

Mayo averaged 20.8 points for Southern Cal, which now faces Beasley and the Wildcats in one of Thursday night’s feature attractions a game that may end one of their college careers.

“I’m always looking forward to showing up in the big games,” Beasley said. “If you’re going to bring it, this is the perfect time, just to show everybody that you are the best. I think this is a good time to shine.”

Next year, all six teams could have a different look if the freshmen leave.

O’Connor doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.

“It doesn’t matter what year the kids in the tournament are,” O’Connor said. “It’s always interesting to watch them excel.”

Even if they’re only around for one tournament.

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