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John GasawayESPN Insider
CloseESPN Insider college basketball contributor
First began covering college hoops in 2004
Has written for Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal
It’s been a good few weeks for those who doubt the wisdom of relying upon one-and-done talent. Duke and, especially, Kentucky have looked mediocre at best and hapless at worst early in the season, posting a combined 3-6 record.
The Wildcats began the season starting four freshmen before switching to three first-year starters. And while Duke has been somewhat less reliant upon freshmen than UK this season, statistically speaking, that hasn’t prevented commentators from attributing the Blue Devils’ 2-2 record to an excess of youth.
Naturally, older players in college basketball are, as a population, better than younger players. Kentucky and Duke won national championships in 2012 and 2015, respectively, not by flouting that tendency as much as by repackaging it. Their title teams were young but not too young, leavened as they were with relative veterans such as Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller (Kentucky) and Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson (Duke).
Teams don’t need one-and-done players to achieve elite status. The past four national champions, for example, received little or nothing in the way of significant contributions from true one-and-done performers. (The asterisks here go to Tony Bradley and Omari Spellman. Before Bradley was selected with the No. 28 pick, he averaged seven points and 15 minutes as a freshman reserve for national champion North Carolina in 2017. Spellman thrived as a redshirt freshman for national champion Villanova in 2018 and was then taken with the No. 30 pick in the NBA draft.)
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