When Kyle Snowden was a freshman beginning his career for the Harvard men's basketball team, Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett were starting their junior year in high school. Allen Iverson was serving his ill-deserved prison term.
Now, of course, Snowden is still with the Crimson, a senior stalwart on a resurgent Crimson squad. His counterparts, however, have leapfrogged him, finishing high school, zipping through abbreviated stays in college, and now starring in the NBA.
The almost ridiculous contrast between Snowden's experience and that of the more skilled (if less studious) NBA trio highlights a malaise of today's "big-time" college game--a maddening lack of continuity. Most fans feel as if they never know a team. As soon as a team begins to develop a particular character and show some promise, it is decimated by graduation and early defections to the NBA.
The point here is not to criticize those who leave college early for proball. Their talent is their's alone and no one can be blamed for jumping at the opportunity to earn millions playing professionally. Nevertheless, fans can only lament the talent drain and lack of continuity that the early departures create.
Only a few years ago, the college game was a very different one. Players, no matter how talented, stayed in school until graduation. Duke's remarkable run of Final Fours and National Championships was made possible by the four-year careers of such stars as Christian Laettner and Grant Hill. Today, it is difficult to imagine such talents foresaking the NBA until graduation.
Not only was the Duke dynasty exciting, it also allowed fans to "get to know" the team. Watching the same players for a number of years gave fans the opportunity to develop favorites and villians--there were many who enjoyed hating Laettner's brashness and late-game heroics.
It would have been difficult for fans to develop the same feelings about Marbury or Iverson, who are both at least as talented as Laettner. By the time they had clearly established themselves as stars, they were off to the NBA.
It must be noted that there is not a complete lack of continuity in the college game. Tim Duncan of Wake Forest could easily have been a top pick in last year's draft. Instead, he chose to remain in school.
Unfortunately because others have not followed his lead, Duncan's decision has created a talent imbalance. It is no coincidence that the Deamon Deacons have been ranked in the top three nationally throughout the year--Duncan is far superior to the opponents he faces. Imagine how exciting college ball would be if Duncan had to face Marbury, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace instead. All of these players would be in Duncan's conference (the ACC) if they had not chosen to leave early.
There is at least one conference that has been unaffected by the turmoil in the college game--the Ivy League. Seniors at Harvard have been able to enjoy Snowden's talents throughout their stays in school. When thinking about next year's team, one can be confident that junior Mike Scott will be a key figure. How nice.
So we Ivy Leaguers can at least take comfort in the fact that if the major college game has changed for the worse, our own game is much the same as ever.