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You come to me with your little sheets of paper. Your
predictions. You love your college hoops more than you love just
about anything in life except, perhaps, watching Gene Hackman in
Hoosiers for the 900th time. You have a passion for this game
that is laudable, but also slightly ridiculous. You are
beginning to sound like Dick Vitale. You keep calling me baby.

"It looks like North Carolina all the way, baby," you say.
"Jerry Stackhouse! Rasheed Wallace! Deano is loaded...."

Your face is painted sky-blue and white. You've got your magic
cable clicker, which will pull in the billion or so games that
will be played on that long and winding Road to East Rutherford,
N.J. (The Road to East Rutherford?) You think you are ready. You
think you know, through careful observation of last year's
billion or so games, exactly what will happen this year. Alas,
you know nothing.

"Rasheed will clean the glass, baby, and Mr. Stackhouse will do
a very good impression of Mr. Michael Jordan, Himself," you say.
"Deano has all he needs to--"

Stop. You have not been paying attention. You pride yourself on
watching only college basketball, and from the moment the UCLA
Bruins cut down the nets last year, you retreated into a sports
hibernation. You have missed everything.

The most important moments in the coming college season have
happened already, before the first zone trap has caused the
first double dribble. You do not understand. Nothing is the way
it was supposed to be. Rasheed, for instance, will be cleaning
glass this year in Landover, Maryland. And Mr. Stackhouse will
be trying to guard Mr. Michael Jordan, Himself, at the Spectrum
in Philadelphia. The most important month in college basketball
is now June (June Madness?), when the NBA draft is held. The
best players in the college game no longer stay around to play
the college game. Money talks, and sophomores and juniors walk.

"Joe Smith of Maryland is my MVP for the second straight year,"
you say. "He scores, he bangs, he does everything--"

He now scores and bangs in Oakland for the Warriors. Gone.

"Corliss Williamson of Arkansas--"

See you later. Sacramento.

"Antonio McDyess of Alabama--"

Denver Nuggets.

"And my sleeper of the year, Gaaaaaaaary Trent of Ohio
University. Nobody knows him, but he can shoot the rock--"

They know him in Portland. He's shooting the rock there now. And
he's a millionaire.

Seventeen underclassmen--plus freshman-yet-to-be Kevin
Garnett--left school for the NBA. Nine, plus the high schooler,
were chosen in the first round of the NBA draft. No major U.S.
sport has ever taken a larger hit. Seventeen top stars. Gone in
a moment. The trend that had been developing, the best players'
leaving college sooner and sooner for the pros, became a
flat-out exodus. And as the NBA becomes diluted by expansion,
the opportunities for instant basketball employment will only
increase. Even if the rookie salary cap stems the tide somewhat,
the floodgates are wide open. Let this kid Garnett, straight
from a Chicago high school, light up a few big-time gyms and the
NBA scouts will be sitting next to the assistant coaches from
Indiana and UConn and Duke at the next Illinois state regionals.

The player of the year last year should probably have been Glenn
(Big Dog) Robinson in what should have been his senior season at
Purdue. Or maybe Chris Webber would have won. He would have been
a senior, and maybe Michigan would have won an NCAA title. The
player of the year this season would probably be Jason Kidd at
California. He would be a senior if he hadn't left after his
sophomore season.

The college game has always been known as the minor league, the
developing ground for the pros, but now it has moved from Triple
A to A ball. The veterans have become the unwanted, the
leftovers. The talent is the kids. The stars of the coming NCAA
tournament will be the freshmen, the sophomores, maybe a few
juniors. The best players probably won't even have picked a
major course of study. The best players probably won't ever have
to pick a major course of study.

"Happiness in Chapel Hill, baby!" you say. "Stackhouse has one
of Deano's legs and Rasheed has the other as they carry him off
the court. Won't that be a beautiful thing to see?"

Well, yes, I suppose it would be, baby. But it ain't going to
happen. Not a chance.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID DIAZ [Drawing of basketball players running away from pile of books toward pile of money]