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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Former UK stars pine for missed Final Four

By Eamonn Brennan

All in all, being an NBA player is pretty great. You get to play basketball for a living, and by "living" I mean "a wildly lavish lifestyle beyond the ambitions of 99 percent of Americans." You get to see the nation's greatest cities. You don't have to be good-looking to attract members of the opposite sex. You get to wear those Dr. Dre headphones for free.

But don't think there aren't perils to possessing otherworldly individual basketball talent. Some players are so good they're compelled, whether they much like it or not, to enter the NBA draft after one season of college basketball. Case in point: John Wall.

During his brilliant freshman season at Kentucky, Wall semi-jokingly mentioned his desire to remain to Lexington, Ky., for another year, which was greeted with a big fat "you're the No. 1 pick, don't even think about it" from his coach, John Calipari. Wall said he had "no choice" but to turn pro, and while he may have been joking, you sort of got the impression that maybe, just maybe, the idea of staying in school for another year was somewhat tempting. Sure, being in the NBA is great. But being an awesome college athlete -- heck, just being in college -- is pretty great, too.

In the end, after Kentucky's Elite Eight loss to West Virginia last season, Wall left. His teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, followed suit. Both were selected in the top five of the 2010 NBA draft, and both are now wealthier than I can even fathom. But by leaving, both missed a chance to be part of this year's Kentucky team, which is having itself the college hoops experience of a lifetime at the Final Four.

So ... do Wall and Cousins wish they'd stayed? Not so much. But that doesn't mean they don't seem to miss going to the Final Four. From the Associated Press:
"Yes, I wish I was still there," Cousins said. "College life was fun."

[...] More than a thousand fans showed up at Blue Grass Airport to welcome the team back late Sunday night after knocking off North Carolina in the East Regional final, the same kind of celebration that was supposed to happen last year.

"I wanted to be there for that," Cousins said.

"I'm feeding off it," Wall said. "I'm happy for my Kentucky teammates. They did something we couldn't do last year. ... Hopefully they can win it all."

Being rich and famous and young and cool and the kind of person greeted with stunned murmurs when they walk into swanky upscale lounges has to be pretty tremendous. But being a part of a Final Four team during your college years isn't so bad, either. Wall and Cousins -- especially Cousins -- seem to realize as much.

Even Patrick Patterson, who told the AP he had "no regrets at all," still admitted he thought "about it all the time how much I miss it." Does that mean he, Wall and Cousins should have stayed for another season of college hoops? No. When you're going to get paid like those three, especially the two freshman, were about to get paid ... well, you go get paid. The college is awesome argument doesn't rank very high in the "should I take my millions now?" discussion. Nor should it.

Still, it's worth noting. These quasi-lamentations do make decisions like Jared Sullinger's -- who is turning down a likely top-five spot in this summer's NBA draft to return to school -- easier to understand.

Most of us don't have millions of dollars waiting for us after college is over, but if you went to college, well, you know the deal. Once you're there, you don't want to leave. And if you think you do, it doesn't take more than a few weeks in the office to know just how wrong you were.