One shining moment could be last bright spot

The Baltimore Sun

Who will be the Adam Morrison of this version of March Madness? The Joakim Noah? The Sean May, the Emeka Okafor, the J.J. Redick, the Shane Battier ...

You get the point. Some player in the NCAA tournament will either elevate himself into the heavens or ride a wave of adulation that was built pre-tournament - and by the time he lands, he will be not only a college legend, but also the talk of the run-up to the NBA draft.

Except the landing will come far short of the same level of pro stardom that he enjoyed in college.

Every year, there's more proof that as engrossing as the tournament is, it proves to be a pretty poor predictor of NBA success, and in relation to the pros, badly overinflates reputations. It's basketball's answer to the Heisman Trophy.

And the actual quality of play, individual and collective, gets inflated along the way. You've heard it before, generally from people who should know better: College basketball is way better than the NBA.

That couldn't be more wrong, and never has it been more wrong than this season.

It's hard to tell whether the NBA has gotten that much better or everybody finally woke up to how good it has been all along. But to watch LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and their teams, as well as everybody on the Boston Celtics, and still buy the March hype about college ball, is to admit to, well, madness.

So this might be the year reality sinks in and college and pro ball are appreciated for their distinct styles, quality and entertainment values.

Of course, that would presume that Tyler Hansbrough, of No. 1 seed North Carolina, avoids canonization before the nets are cut down in Detroit next month. He's the most likely candidate to follow the others' sort-of hallowed footsteps. He's outstanding at this level but probably a career backup or role player in the pros.

One hopes the college fanatics aren't as thunderstruck by those prospects as they were when the darlings of the 2006 tournament, Morrison and Redick, fell flat in the NBA.

Or when, in 2004, Connecticut's Okafor did not step right in and dominate the league.

It's not as if this is a new phenomenon - just ask Goose Givens, Scotty Thurman, Ed O'Bannon and Christian Laettner. But the current decade has seen it truly crystallize.

The NBA has gone younger in the draft (even after it installed an age limit), college basketball's most prominent voices started depicting the two games as good vs. evil, and the public utterly missed out on the distinctions.

Thus, many observers are unprepared for college stars' careers that range from pretty good (Battier has been a solid defensive specialist) to near-invisible (paging Mateen Cleaves).

If college and the NBA were taken for what they are, instead of being pitted against each other, there would be a lot less shock - and a lot more appreciation for what actually is the best basketball in the world.

So enjoy the rest of the tournament, and when it's over, re-introduce yourself to the NBA. Also, say hello to Trajan Langdon, if you run into him.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370.

points after

* That had to be emotional for Greivis Vasquez yesterday - it might have been the last time his words blow up in his face while in a Maryland uniform.

* Meanwhile, Ray Lewis committed another major public relations gaffe. He should have held a news conference during the Memphis game, too.

* Morgan State needs to get back into the NCAAs next year - the sooner to create a signature moment besides Ameer Ali body-slamming Blake Griffin.

* With so much going on with the Ravens lately, I must have completely missed when Jay Cutler became a perennial All-Pro, Super Bowl-contending quarterback who can tell his team what to do.

* Brian Roberts sounds like he kind of enjoys being surrounded by all that talent, doesn't he?

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