As we close out the decade, Andy Katz and his some of his ESPN.com colleagues take a look back at the most meaningful storylines and headlines of the past 10 years
Katz's Top Five
1. The age limit and the birth of the one-and-done: In the first part of the decade, elite high school seniors were heading directly to the NBA. In the latter part, they were forced into staying at least one season in college. The arguments raged about what was best for the high school, college and pro game. The debate will continue into the next decade, or at least until the new collective bargaining agreement in 2011. But it's clear the college game has had more freshmen star power the past four years.
2. The mid-major moments: George Mason's Final Four run in 2006 will go down as one of the more memorable events in the history of the game. It was something special to witness as they took on three major powers -- North Carolina, Michigan State and Connecticut -- and carved a path to the Final Four. But others had their time, too, like Davidson's Elite Eight run led by Stephen Curry in 2008, or one of the best endings I've ever seen: Vermont's upset of Syracuse in the '05 first round in Worcester, Mass. I'll never forget seeing the euphoric crowd rise up when T.J. Sorrentine hit a deep 3-pointer to clinch the game against the Orange. Vermont coach Tom Brennan, who retired after that season, raised his arms up high when Sorrentine hit the basket.
3. Scandal: Unfortunately, there were too many. The Baylor murder scarred the earlier part of the decade as a young man, Patrick Dennehy, was killed by his teammate Carlton Dotson. A cover-up of NCAA violations occurred under former coach Dave Bliss, which ended what had been a solid coaching career. NCAA investigations at Indiana essentially put that program in rubble for a period as one-time Final Four coach Kelvin Sampson was given a scarlet letter that he's still dealing with while an assistant in the NBA. Plenty of other programs, from Memphis to USC to Connecticut, had to deal with accusations and allegations, and in the latter two cases the issues still aren't completely resolved.
4. Bob Knight: He passed Dean Smith to become the all-time winningest coach in college basketball. Knight was run out of Indiana earlier in the decade in what was a surreal soap opera. He found a home in Lubbock when Gerald Myers, the Texas Tech athletic director, extended an olive branch to give him a second life as a college coach. Knight passed Smith while at Texas Tech and left the program to his son Pat. He's now at ESPN as an analyst.
5. Skip Prosser: It's hard to put someone's death at No. 5 on a list. To anyone associated with Prosser, he will be the most important loss of this decade. But for this purpose, there has to be a number next to his name. Prosser was genuine. He was real. He was more than a coach. He was well-read, a historian and a lover of life. His heart attack and subsequent death stunned the college basketball world. He was beloved at every stop where he coached, from Xavier to Wake Forest. His death is still hard for those close to him to absorb. He will be missed for many years to come.
Some Additional Thoughts
There is no question that early entries into the NBA has changed the college basketball landscape. The NBA is the most talked-about factor in a young player's life, and coaches now have to recruit with the pros in mind. It has gotten a bit out of control, and nobody really has a handle on the issue. It remains the biggest issue for the game going forward. Bob Knight's firing seemed an impossible happening, but it happened. Knight picked himself up after the most traumatic happening of his professional career and promptly made Texas Tech relevant, breaking Dean Smith's record for career wins and becoming the first coach to 900 wins. Who would have predicted that Knight would be a card-carrying member of the media by decade's end? Roy Williams' emotional journey from Kansas to North Carolina had everything but a seat on Oprah's couch, but the story didn't end there. Williams has led the Tar Heels to three Final Fours and two national championships on his way to the Naismith Hall of Fame, and he is not done yet. Ol' Roy is still recruiting his tail off and Carolina is the biggest dog in the college basketball fight. Kentucky went from Tubby Smith's success to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari, and the hand-wringing over the shape of the program seems a distant memory as the decade ends. UK has 2,000-plus wins and a new hero in Calipari. And finally, George Mason pulled off the impossible, beating Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn to reach the Final Four. The fun was watching coach Jim Larranaga and his team have so much fun. Was Mason one of the very best teams of the decade? Perhaps not. But was there a more memorable team? No way.
Players come, players go. NBA forces players to college for one year in a move that helps college game's quality but undermines the academic mission. Conference expansion remakes the map. Sixteen teams in the Big East, ACC goes to 12, Conference USA is reduced to rubble (plus Memphis). Agents, travel-team scam artists and sneaker pimps continue to erode the integrity of the game. Indiana implodes. From firing Bob Knight in 2000 to today, no Cadillac program has endured comparable upheaval this decade. Roy Williams' move is win-win. He leaves Kansas for Carolina and both schools win titles. And one of the running storylines of the decade was the collection of college coaches who went pro, went bust, and returned to their rightful place: Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, Mike Montgomery, Leonard Hamilton, Tim Floyd. All six have taken (or took, in Floyd's case) programs to the NCAA tournament in their second acts, and two have taken them to the Final Four.
With the advent of the NBA's one-and-done rule, as part of the most recent collective bargaining agreement between NBA owners and the NBA Players Association, the best high school players in the country have had to park themselves in college for at least a season. On the court, it has been a spectacular success. Players like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Kevin Love stepped onto the college basketball stage and excelled immediately. Durant was the consensus national Player of the Year while guys like Oden, Conley, Love and Rose led their teams to the Final Four. The argument can be made that the one-and-done guys pass through so quickly that they are barely student-athletes, but overall the rule has been good for college basketball.
One has to start with the NBA age limit. No decision has more greatly impacted the college game than this one. Those in favor say it at least gently seasons kids before they go pro, while those opposed say it mocks any concept of the student in student-athlete. Playing the grays. Linguists would be impressed at the way college basketball coaches have nuanced the semantics of the NCAA rulebook in their favor. Who's at fault? Everyone. Coaches for looking for ways to end-around the laws and NCAA folks for writing a Beijing phone book full of arcane rules. The Big Beast. Thanks to the always-overriding desires of football, the Big East now stands at an unwieldy 16 teams and has rewritten geography. Milwaukee, Chicago, Louisville and Cincinnati are in the East? Who knew? Rise of the mid-majors. Sure, the big dogs with the deeper pockets still tend to rule the roost, but this decade has bridged the gap like no other. Really, mid-major has become a misnomer: Xavier makes two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16 appearance, George Mason rolls to the Final Four, Kent State makes it all the way to the Elite Eight, Steph Curry and Davidson become America's team and Saint Joseph's falls one shot short of the Final Four. The fall and rise of the premier programs. North Carolina falls apart under Matt Doherty but returns under Roy Williams. Williams bolts Kansas after the national title game, but Bill Self keeps the Jayhawks rock chalkin'. Kentucky spits through an NIT season and returns from the rubble with John Calipari and the top recruiting class in the country, and Indiana boots its Hall of Fame coach, gets busted by the NCAA for the first time in program history and turns a patient eye to Tom Crean.