- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- We end this tournament with moments, with a montage of them strung together and set to music to wrap up the magic of March. But do we really appreciate the moment? And not the small ones or even the shining ones, but the big one, the moment in time, whether it's one year or four, when these basketball players are college basketball players.
Because they deserve it and so does the game.
This Final Four is a perfect cross-section of what this sport is today. There are guaranteed lottery picks and guaranteed lawyers, some guys who will go directly to the NBA, others who will take the circuitous route but will still get there. There are some who will play overseas and some whose future is in the YMCA rec leagues.
But regardless of what happens next, what's happening now ought to be commended.
This isn't about the merits or demerits of the one-and-done rule. What's one-and-done is done, and anyone who faults a kid for opting for the million-dollar payout over another chemistry class is a hypocrite.
We'd all prefer cash over chemistry. No, this is just about enjoying the moment instead of worrying about what's next.
Is UConn's Shabazz Napier good enough to be an NBA point guard? I have no idea, but I do know that he is one of the best point guards in the game this season and having a sort of season that only a handful of players can say they enjoyed. Should Kentucky's Harrison twins leave school and go to the NBA? No clue, but what they've done over the past three weeks, essentially reinventing their game, is a marvel to be appreciated.
Is Frank Kaminsky a pro prospect? Again, don't know, don't care. I do know that he has gone from unknown to wunderkind in one year -- and that's pretty impressive.
Who among the Florida seniors will be a good pro? Hard to call it, but what's not hard to call is how good these Gators have been as a collective unit.
That's what's getting lost.
Being a great college basketball player is still exceptional, yet we treat it with a yawn. Billy Donovan was a great college player. Rick Pitino's feisty 3-point shooting hero of a point guard led Providence to an improbable Final Four. That didn't turn into NBA greatness for Donovan. He had more of a sip of coffee than a full cup in the NBA.
And that was OK.
Now it's not. The college game is not only a forgotten warm-up act, it can be tantamount to failure when the eyes are always on the future.
"I feel bad that a lot of kids walk off a college campus if they have been there for four years and view themselves as being anything less than successful,'' Donovan said. "Seriously, it bothers me when I hear stories like that.''
It should bother all of us because it's downright insane. There is still merit here in the college game. It's hard to cling to the notion of being true to your school. The sport is a money-making business and to say otherwise would be wildly naïve. But sit back and actually watch the game, watch the joy when a team wins and the agony when it loses. Those aren't phony tears or sobs over losing a bonus check.
Niels Giffey, now in his second Final Four, one more improbable than the other, is probably headed to Germany when his tenure at Connecticut is over. He played with the national team there this summer and learned that being in a hurry for what's next isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"This is just a great opportunity to grow as a person and a player on a different level, where it's not all about business or all about money,'' Giffey said. "I talked to the guys [on the national team] and they told me all the time of stories, so I was really happy with all of my decisions that I made to play for four years and not go overseas.''
Giffey made a pitch, too, for more players to consider four-year careers but that's as naïve as the thought that there is no money in college sports.
And it's also irrelevant.
"First of all, does a player have to be here for four years to be a terrific college player?'' Kentucky coach John Calipari asked.
No, coach, he doesn't.
Anthony Davis' carbon footprint at Kentucky may not be as lasting as Jon Hood's, but his sneaker mark on that program and that university will last forever.
Which brings us to this Kentucky five. In all likelihood this weekend is their collegiate swan song.
The personification of a season that has been all about freshmen, the kiddie Cats have dominated the conversation this season, for worse early and for better late.
Chances are they will all gather at a table in New York in June, walk on stage in tailored suits, stand next to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and don new caps signifying their new team affiliation.
As quickly as they came together at Kentucky, poof! They will spread across NBA rosters next.
The Wildcats are not your 8-seed Villanova story. These Cinderellas are wearing Manolo Blahniks, but what Kentucky has done in the past three weeks is no less remarkable. And they ought to be remembered for it.
The moments are fleeting enough.
Let's at least enjoy them.