This season's flood of college freshmen likely bound for the NBA after one season begs the question: What makes these kids more ready to make the leap than players of my generation?
Guys such as O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Kyle Singler are far more skilled and smarter than young players were in years past. A lot of it has to do with the impact that the media has had on sports. Through AAU tournaments and nationally televised events pitting the best high school programs against one another, these kids have had the opportunity to put their skills to the test against the best of the best. Coverage of their development is unprecedented.
I equate the guys mentioned above – as freshmen – to what a college senior was physically, emotionally and talent-wise when I was a player.
Today's freshman standouts have seen what has been accomplished by LeBron James and Dwight Howard. They realize that their goals of NBA stardom are attainable.
Silenced is the talk that kids can't make that jump out of high school or shortly thereafter. The struggles of an Eddy Curry or a Kwame Brown have been replaced by the successes of James and Howard.
The difference? Where Curry and Brown might have been ready physically, mentally they were not. James showed people he was ready physically and mentally to play at the highest level. He also knew how to conduct and carry himself amid the media scrutiny and cynicism. LeBron broke the mold. He has been the inspiration for these young guys. He's talked to the Mayos and others who asked him what it takes to make it.
Mayo got a lot of heat for choosing to play at USC. But all he did was show that he was capable of making a savvy business decision. Now his play is showcased in a major media market and he plays for a former NBA coach. His decision was wise beyond his years.
Today's players are better prepared than their predecessors of even five years ago. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant made a significant impact last year. Previously, dominant performances by college freshmen would have never resulted in player of the year honors. Oden and Durant changed that.
When I was a kid, you never got to see young players accomplish anything. The great freshmen weren't allowed to be great. Think back to Michael Jordan at North Carolina. He wasn't allowed to go out and fully display his talent. Now, society has accepted it is not our place to hold back unique talents, we should embrace them.
These kids are far better equipped to succeed. They are trained to be their best right now. Gone is the mindset of waiting their turn.
The money at stake is huge. LeBron had $100 million in endorsements before he had played in an NBA game. Young kids see that. It gives them more of a belief in themselves and what's possible.
Sports is a reflection of our culture. Kids are exposed to far more at a younger age. They are far more mature. I have a 7-year-old who studies a foreign language. In my day, that wasn't done until high school.
Competition has fueled the push to turn pro faster. You can go online and look up the top 50 seventh graders, see their video. There are fewer secrets for college coaches to uncover and recruit.
This race for NBA glory has made things tougher on those college coaches, made them earn their high salaries even more.
Before, coaches knew there was a chance a standout might leave after his junior year. Now, you know this kid is only going to be around one year. How you recruit, how you coach, completely changes. You have one shot with this kid. There is no paying your dues, they have to make a significant impact right away.
You saw it with Carmelo Anthony helping Syracuse to a national championship. You saw it with Oden getting Ohio State to the championship game. It alters the philosophy of coaching. There's less teaching now that these kids are the focal point. You have to balance that when you have seniors who have been around. It's a sensitive dynamic in terms of team leadership.
And that will be the test for Tim Floyd, Frank Martin, John Calipari Ben Howland, Kelvin Sampson and Mike Krzyzewski.
The test for these kids? They've already passed.