Presbyterian College basketball team sacrifices for the greater good

When the NBA instituted a rule a few years ago that high school phenoms needed to play in college at least one year, it turned Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James into talented examples of living history.

There have been two primary by-products of this rule which college basketball fans are familiar with.

The first is the rise of the one-and-done superstar freshman. Carmelo Anthony perfected this role at Syracuse, leading the Orange to a national championship before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets. Greg Oden led Ohio State to the Final Four before launching into what has unfortunately become an injury-plagued career in Portland. Current University of Kentucky freshman John Wall may prove to be another example.

The second, and harder to foresee consequence, has been the reward for small school teams (a.k.a. mid-majors) to develop talent for four years and then have a team of seniors who know each other like the back of their hand make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament against big schools with inexperienced lineups. George Mason took this the ultimate degree when it made the Final Four. Schools such as Gonzaga and Butler have gone a step further, becoming annual household names with great recruiting and coaching.

Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. is adding a new wrinkle to it. From a Christian standpoint the school’s mission statement proclaims, “…to develop within the framework of Christian faith the mental, physical, moral, and spiritual capacities of each student in preparation for a lifetime of personal and vocational fulfillment and responsible contribution to our democratic society and the world community.”

Those are laudable educational goals, particularly the part about moral capacity which appears to have taken hold on the basketball court. The team’s top three players are all juniors and they’re all taking a redshirt year (a year where they practice only, banking a year of eligibility to play) and riding the bench this year. Under normal circumstances this would seem crazy, but the team and the players have bigger goals in mind.

Presbyterian is in a probationary period having been given the green light to play Division I basketball. In the 2011-12 season, the period will be up and Presbyterian will be a fully vested member of the Big South Conference, which gives them a shot at an NCAA bid. The three players will then be fifth-year seniors cashing in on this season on the sidelines. In the meantime the squad is taking its lumps playing four heavyweights on the road – North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida and Marquette – to gain valuable experience and get a share of the revenue of playing at a big school, which is very common.

The best part of the equation is the willingness on the part of the players to delay gratification for a chance at something bigger and better. The easy route would be to play and just say, “Hey, it’s been great, let me get my degree and get outta here.” Instead, making the choice to wait a year – which can admittedly seem like an eternity when you’re 20 – speaks well not only for the players but the coaching staff and the university as a whole.

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