Once again, the men’s basketball team’s season ended far too early in the NCAA tournament. Though heartbreaking, Georgetown’s premature exit allows us to consider the merits of our basketball program in a broader light.

Though we suffered a tough loss on Sunday afternoon to North Carolina State, it’s worth noting that the Hoyas relied on the play and leadership of their seniors more than several other highly seeded teams in the tournament. At Georgetown, four-year student-athletes represent a tradition that extends beyond good basketball strategy.

Although this season is not over yet, college basketball programs have long been eyeing next year’s freshman class. Currently, the 2012 ESPNU 100’s top-ranked high school recruit in the country, Nerlens Noel of Everett, Mass., has narrowed his list of suitors to three: Georgetown, Syracuse University and the University of Kentucky.

But while Noel will provide a huge boost in the 2012-2013 men’s college basketball season for whichever program he’s a part of, his talent has the potential to make him a projected NBA lottery pick as soon as the 2013 draft. To be eligible for the NBA draft, players must be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school; a student can attend just one year of college and then move on to the NBA. The University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, one of Georgetown’s remaining competitors in its recruitment of Noel, is an example of a program that has used many so-called “one-and-done” players to achieve annual success.

In contrast to programs like Kentucky, Georgetown has thrived recently on the leadership of seniors like Jason Clark and Henry Sims this season and Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn last year. Roy Hibbert led the Hoyas to the 2007 Final Four during his senior campaign and is now an NBA all-star with the Indiana Pacers.

Some former Hoyas who left early for the NBA, like Greg Monroe and Jeff Green, have also returned to finish their degrees through Georgetown summer school programs.

Four-year players — and those who return to Georgetown later to finish their degrees — embody an important principle of college athletics. While memories of their on-the-court victories may last for decades, their Georgetown degrees will last the rest of their lives.

Noel will undoubtedly be welcomed on campus if he chooses Georgetown. But regardless of what he might accomplish at Verizon Center, his recruitment underscores a challenge that

Georgetown’s highest-profile athletics program faces. Analysts are divided about whether recruiting possible one-and-done players is a formula for sustained success in men’s college basketball, and some argue that young players who spend at least a few years in college benefit from maturing athletically, intellectually and emotionally before moving on to play professionally.

But players who choose to play a full four years bring something different to the university. The fact that first Sims and now sophomore Markel Starks have each run for Georgetown University Student Association vice president reflects an engagement on campus that is hard to envision with one-and-done players.

Georgetown should encourage each recruit — even one as NBA-ready as Noel — to make the most of his Hilltop experience, because while other schools can offer training for the NBA, Georgetown also offers training for life. The spirit of cura personalis is a defining feature of this campus, and it applies to far more than refining a jump shot or developing a post move.

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