Season's biggest disappointments: Pac-10, UNC and Willie Warren
It was a Tuesday afternoon in late March 2007, and precocious Huntington (W.Va.) High senior
"It's L.A. -- it's great marketing," Mayo said. "I'll get my face on the West Coast."
His other stated motivation was to play for then-coach
Mayo's one-year USC tenure proved to be a disappointment -- the Trojans failed to win an NCAA tournament game -- and similarly, all across the Pac-10, schools have seen their basketball teams used as launching pads to the NBA.
That exodus of talent, without successful replenishment, has made the Pac-10 the most disappointing conference of the 2009-10 season.
In the most recent
In contrast, the Pac-10 sent six teams to the NCAA tournament each of the past three years. Only once since 1993 has the league even had as few as three schools invited; it last had only one team in 1978, when the bracket included 32 teams.
While the Pac-10 had record football success this fall, with six schools winning at least eight games, its basketball counterparts are struggling, in part because of early player exits.
Beginning with Mayo's draft class of 2008, no league has suffered more casualties to the pro ranks than the Pac-10. Whether it's because players, like Mayo, want the West Coast exposure or whether they want to attach themselves to traditionally strong programs, in the last two years seven players were drafted by the NBA after their freshman season and three more left after their sophomore years. In all, the Pac-10 has had 21 players taken in the past two drafts, eight more than any other league. The Big 12, Big East and ACC have all had 13 in the period, the same number of Pac-10 first-round selections.
The problem is that the Pac-10 failed to replace those blue-chip players. Three of the four McDonald's All-Americans in that 2007 game who went to Pac-10 schools (Mayo,
As UCLA coach
Sure, there's been significant coaching turnover in the conference, with three rookie head coaches and one second-year coach this season, but there has also been a lingering O.J. Mayo Effect dragging down the Pac-10.
Without a doubt, the winner is North Carolina, which has lost nine of its last 11 and sits just a half-game above N.C. State in the ACC cellar. Though the Tar Heels lost their top four scorers (and six of their top eight players) from last year's national championship team, they still fielded a talented squad with seven McDonald's All-Americans.
UNC even showed that talent early, with wins over Michigan State and an
Warren, Oklahoma's reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a preseason All-America guard, entered the season looking to pick up where
Unfortunately for Warren, little has gone as expected. Though he leads Oklahoma with 16.3 points per game, he is also tops in turnovers, at nearly four per game. Against Oklahoma State in January, he was briefly benched by coach
Now Warren is battling a sprained ankle and a bout of mononucleosis, and his return to the court is uncertain. Even his teammates have noticed his bad luck.
"It's just been a down season for Willie," freshman
Oklahoma will likely be left out of the NCAA tournament, but Warren can take heart knowing he's still projected to be a mid-first-round NBA pick.