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College Experience Necessary For Playoff Basketball?

David Stern probably thought he?d put an end to the high school vs. college debate by changing the NBA?s early entry rule.
Two years ago the commissioner said no high school player could enter the draft without being at least one year past his high school graduation.
That idea was initially as popular as the new dress code rule.
The change enraged fans who believed the rule kept kids from earning a living, and furthermore, lowered the amount of talented players allowed to enter the league.
What the rule did was add fuel to an already flaming fire.
And if the recent discussions concerning the polarizing rule are considered mild debate, this year?s playoffs may lead to a full-fledged duel.
The 2007 playoffs began as a case-study comparing prospective successes of players who went to college, and those that made the leap from high school to the pros.
Perhaps the most glaring example is LeBron James. James made the jump seem easy and is in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. He?s about to take his team to the conference finals one year after getting to game  seven of the conference semi-finals.
But LeBron is a freak of nature. And as a freak, he serves as an exception to a quickly emerging rule.
Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O?Neal.
Despite being great players, this quartet shows a  disheartening trend: A lack of winning.
Kobe may seem out of place because he owns three rings, but those successes came as Shaquille O?Neal?s (who played three years of college ball) sidekick.
Since O?Neal?s departure, Kobe has missed the playoffs entirely once, and led his team to first-round losses  twice.
McGrady is rapidly becoming synonymous with first-round disappointments;  Garnett hasn?t played more than 82 games for three consecutive years; Jermaine?s team is in utter disarray, and rumors persist that he?s ready to contribute elsewhere.
The other side of the spectrum, however, points to teams either on the rise, or already on top.
The Pistons, Spurs, Jazz and Cavs ? all favorites in their respective match-ups ? have just one high-school athlete each, and the aforementioned LeBron is the only one getting playing time.
The teams losing those series are dominated by college  athletes too.
The Bulls have built around successful college players, as have the Nets.  Amare Stoudemire of the Suns is sans college experience, but has Shawn Marion and Steve Nash by his side.
The Warriors? Baron Davis and Jason Richardson both went to college, but their inevitable playoff exit is tied directly to the inconsistency of high-schoolers Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson and the disappearance of prep-to-pro player Monta Ellis.
Whether the difference lies in the lack of athletic development, basketball IQ, or overall immaturity, the disparity among the players is as evident as the  discrepancy among the teams.
Stern?s decision wasn?t received glowingly, but the evidence supports his choice.
Fans may be forced to wait for highly touted-prospects to help their teams, but their patience will definitely pay off.

The New Face Of The Foreign Player

Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the prototype foreigner.  He has a consistent mid-range shot, plays solid defense  blocks out on rebounds.  He?s effective, but unnoticeable.

This was the way of the overseas player.
But look down the Cleveland Cavaliers? roster and you?ll see the new foreign-brand athlete.
Sasha Pavlovic isn?t the best, but his game is the epitome of the new and (maybe) improved European/Asian player.
Pavlovic?s game focuses on his ability to score and, well, that?s about it. Foreigners of yore moved their feet like soccer players and had basketball IQs stemming from John Wooden?s Pyramid of Success ? albeit  with subtitles.
Pavlovic, however, once told his Cleveland coaches that his best form of defense is his offense ? James Naismith would be spinning in his grave.
The changing fabric of the foreign player, however, doesn?t stop in the Cavaliers? locker room.
Take a look at the crop of Euros in this year?s playoffs.
Golden State, everyone?s favorite upstart, shows the most resoundingly subtle progression of play from athletes of other countries. The Warriors? lineup has forward Andris Biedrins of Latvia logging major minutes, while guard Sarunas Jasikevicius of Lithuania  is wasting away on the bench.
Biedrins is talented, but so is Jasikevicius.
The former averaged 18 points and nine rebounds in the Latvian Basketball League while the latter was named the MVP of the Euroleague Basketball Championships in 2003.
The difference is the style of play.
Biedrins is a high-flyer with athleticism that drops jaws. Jasikevicius has the fundamentals to go with athleticism that drops eyelids.
And the players on the horizon aren?t looking any different.
Seven foot rail-thin forward Yi Jianlin of China,  the highest rated foreign prospect in the 2007-08 draft, has knowledge of the game, but it?s his athleticism and ability to run the floor with guards that attracts front office personnel.
His Chinese counterpart, Yao Ming, has the skills and smarts to play at an All-Star caliber level, but his lack of speed has been a major part in the Houston Rockets? three straight first-round playoff exits.
It?s clear that this is more a trend than an exception.
Foreign-born players were once the outcasts of the league; the nerdy kid who kept to himself. Nowadays players from overseas are an accepted commodity.
There is no longer a Grand Canyon-sized gap between other top leagues and the NBA.
Foreign-born players don?t need to be walking fundamentals to succeed in the U.S. because the athletic talent among various leagues is closer than in the past.
Lithuania?s Arvydas Sabonis, and later on West Germany?s Detlef Schrempf and Yugoslavia?s Vlade Divac, was an exquisite face-up shooter and deft passer. His game had to be that way because he couldn?t simulate the athleticism in the NBA.
Now that the comparisons are more viable, overseas players can work on other parts of their game  knowing the hard work will translate in the NBA.
Unfortunately for some teams and players, however, the change in style isn?t fail-proof. Biedrins? now infamous free-throw shooting is a prime example.
Foreigners used to be free-throw experts, but Biedrins? dedication to athleticism likely took  time from perfunctory drills that hone the details.
Then again, without Biedrins, no one would be talking about the Warriors? run, because it probably wouldn?t be happening at all.


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