When a new collective bargaining agreement between NBA commissioner David Stern and the players union set a league age limit in the summer of 2005, it had a sweeping impact on the college game.

From there on, high school superstars would have to wait at least one year after graduating before going pro. For most of these man children, that meant going to college – one year of pretending they knew how to read, faking like they knew who John Wooden was and caring about the concepts of team basketball before being indoctrinated into a life of shooting up strip clubs, mouthing off to their coaches and not passing the ball.

While there has been a drastic drop in the number of Louis Williamses and Dorell Wrights, the college game hasn’t changed that much. Most players still have trouble with phonics (see Jayhawks, Kansas) and strip joints (see Tigers, Memphis), and the true stars don’t have to pass the ball. In the two years since the age edict, the prodigies have found a loophole in the system.

Instead of going straight to the league, blue-chip recruits simply post up at non-traditional basketball schools for a year where they can enjoy a season of selfish stat lines before moving on to the league.

Look at the two recruiting classes since the age limit was imposed. The bumper crop of 2006 was one of the better classes in recent memory. Top-rated prospects Greg Oden and Kevin Durant signed with Ohio State and Texas, respectively – schools who had combined for a total of two Final Fours in the previous 38 years. Oden chose the Buckeyes over traditional powers Indiana and North Carolina (who had 18 Final Fours in the same time span), while Durant had offers from Carolina, Connecticut and Kentucky (21).

Durant’s case is especially telling. Had he signed with the Tar Heels, Durant – a Washington, D.C. product – would have been closer to home, playing at a school where basketball is a religion along with fellow prized recruits Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Yet Durant elected to be the lone five-star prospect at a school 1,500 miles from the Beltway where more people show up for spring football practice than basketball games.

For Durant, it was a perfect fit. With no one forcing him to pass (Longhorns coach Rick Barnes admitted to not running set plays most of the time so Durant could improvise) and no pressure from fans, Durant had the greatest individual season in NCAA history.

Last year’s high school seniors continued the trend. The class valedictorian, Michael Beasley, could have gone anywhere he wanted but signed with Kansas State (last NCAA tourney appearance: 1996) after seriously considering Charlotte. Beasley chose the Wildcats because K-State promised his old AAU coach, Dalonte Hill, a job, and Beasley knew Hill would let him have free reign.

There are others. Instead of playing at hoops hotbeds Cincinnati or Illinois, five-star forward Bill Walker joined Beasley at the basketball wasteland that is Manhattan, Kan. All-Everything O.J. Mayo chose USC over two-time champion Florida because of its lack of basketball tradition and high-exposure market. Trojans’ coach Tim Floyd didn’t believe his team was worthy of Mayo’s talents, so he didn’t bother recruiting him. Mayo reportedly just called him up one day and told him he was coming. That should tell you all you need to know about who is wearing the pants in that one-year stand.

Some will argue that this is a positive trend for the college game. That having the Durants and the Beasleys spurn the Carolinas and the Kentuckys increases the parity in the college game. That freeing prodigious talents like Mayo and Walker from the bondage of an oppressive set offense allows them greater artistic improvisation.

I don’t buy it. Basketball is a team game, and only teams can win games.

Durant won the Naismith and Wooden Awards, was chosen as the AP Player of the Year and put himself in perfect position for the draft. His team, however, finished third in the Big 12 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Beasley is having a Durant-esque year – he has tallied a freshman record 26 double doubles – and is the consensus top pick for the June draft. But the Wildcats are in danger of not making the tournament for the same reason the Longhorns are better this season without Durant than they were with him last year. Teams must be more than merely a man. Beasley’s Big 12 record 44 points came in a loss to Baylor on Feb. 23, and while he may be averaging 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, he has only 36 assists. USC is fourth in the Pac 10, a bubble team at best, and will be sans-Mayo once the season ends. But Floyd isn’t sweating it – “help” is on the way.

Demar DeRozan, number two on the Rivals.com 150, is signed on for a year of glorified street ball under Floyd and Renardo Sidney, the top-rated high school junior, has the Trojans at the top of his list.

Willie Warren, 2008’s fourth-best point guard, recently committed to Oklahoma, and other top 150 prospects like J’Mison Morgan (LSU), Howard Thompkins (Georgia) and Jamychal Green (Alabama) have all decided that being a one-man show at a football school is better than sharing the rock at a traditional power.

aybe the NBA should think about adopting the NFL’s age policy – one that requires athletes to be three years removed from high school to be eligible. Then players like Beasley would have to weigh the benefits of nightly double-doubles versus the harsh reality of three years of cow-tipping and cold weather. That way the Durants would stick around to see his teammates develop around him.

Harlan Goode is a senior in the College. He can be reached at goodethehoya.com. The Goode Worde appears every Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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