Greg Oden has always said he wanted to go to college. He may get his chance. The NBA and the NBA Players Association have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement and within the details, the two parties have agreed to a 19-year-old age limit for entering the NBA Draft. Oden and the rest of his class of 2006 mates will probably see more high-profile coaches at their games in July.
The new collective bargaining agreement states high school players must be 19-years-old by the day of the draft or a year removed from high school. The ruling will not have an effect on the 2005 NBA draft, which will be held June 28.
Players like Oden, Brandan Wright, Darrell Arthur and others will become instant targets for some of the best college programs in the country. The decision has also forced college coaching staffs to retool their recruiting plans and targets for the busy July evaluation period.
"I know I'll be at (Oden's) first game at the ABCD camp," one NCAA head coach told Rivals.com. "I'm sure I'll be there with good company."
That will be the story of the summer. Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wake Forest will likely see a number of other programs join the race. They should. There hasn't been a player like the 7-footer in some time.
Oden could be the best college big man since Tim Duncan, who bypassed any chance to go pro early. Duncan didn't win a national championship while at Wake Forest but Duncan also played against a deeper upperclassmen pool than exists in today's college game.
Now college coaches have to recruit with a mindset of having a blue chip player for a year before bolting for the league. It worked for Syracuse when Carmelo Anthony won a NCAA championship.
Anthony is a rare exception for the freshman phenoms. Guys like Luol Deng, Kris Humphries, Chris Bosh and Dajuan Wagner all experienced great freshman campaigns before being drafted high in the first round out of college instead of declaring out of high school.
The class of 2006 is loaded with big men, all of whom have NBA potential. Coaches will spend more of their efforts recruiting Wright, Arthur, Spencer Hawes and Curtis Kelly in July. Those players will be recruited now at a more fervent pace.
"We knew he might go pro but we still recruited him," one coach said of Wright.
"Now we'll show our face a little bit more just to get him for a year or longer."
That will be the case for a lot of players.
The new rule may also keep some of the players in college a little longer than a year. Guys like Connecticut's Charlie Villanueva thought long and hard about staying in the 2003 draft before migrating to Storrs. He's now being projected as a lottery pick after his sophomore season.
"I think some guys will go to college and not be as good as everyone thought they were," an assistant from a prominent national program said. "I think this helps them realize that they aren't even going to be ready after a year. They may have to stay a little longer."
That's a bonus for both the college and pro game, several coaches said. For others, things will go on like nothing has changed.
"For us, it's business as usual. I know I'm not too worried about it," an assistant from the Midwest said. "We'll still go after the same players we've always gone after. If they go pro, they go pro. Some kids just want to get there no matter what."
NBA commissioner David Stern said a year spent at a prep school as a fifth year senior would count as a year removed from high school. Andray Blatche would be an example from the class of 2005. He took a year at South Kent (Conn.) Prep to prepare himself for the draft.
The new rule is less than 12 hours old and players and agents are already finding outs of the rule, says a NCAA head coach.
"If a kid wants to go to prep school by all means go but if I were recruiting him, I'd have to ask him if he knew what he's missing in the whole college experience," he said.
"At some of these places, I know for a fact they are probably living better at their own public school in Anytown, America. Why spend a year there when you can live with your peers, get a start on your education and play against the best players in the country? That is going to be my pitch. It has always been that way."
"A lot of guys were going to prep schools to get ready for the draft anyways. Now they'll just go to prep to turn 19 and then go from there," another coach said. "There are ways out of this but there are also ways to get coached and enjoy being a college student."
The prep school scene has been relatively strong already but now it could become a monster much bigger than ever anticipated.
"I'd welcome them with arms wide open," one prep school coach said. "Of course for us, our academics are going to be the thing they have to have before we let them in."
That sentiment will ring through the majority of the Northeastern prep schools. Many of the New England programs require a high academic standing. Players like Thaddeus Young be recruited by the best of the best, as they probably already are.
Young, the No. 3 ranked player in the class of 2006, is a 4.0 student with a world of potential. He could very easily be a preps-to-pros candidate as an 18-year-old but now with the new rule in place, Young could have the option of waiting at a prep school.
The Pandora's box is open. Could there be new prep schools opening up just for the sole influence of housing players that are waiting on the calendar to turn another year? A lot of coaches said they would not be surprised to see that happen.
Will recruiting take on a new life this summer? Does it need to? The 19-year-old age limit isn't as daunting as it seems. Guys like Paul Harris, Vernon Macklin and Daequan Cook, all five-star prospects in their own right, will be 19 come draft day next year. In 2007, studs O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker won't have to worry about the age limit. They are already a year older than their peers.
Take Kevin Durant for example. He's a year young for his class but he can still enter the draft as an 18-year-old next year after a year under Rick Barnes at the University of Texas. Teenagers will still enter the league.
That's not a bad thing, either. Guys like LeBron James and Dwight Howard did pretty good as 19-year-olds, too.