Memo to future blue-chip recruits: Do not, under any circumstances, sign a national letter of intent. That should be obvious in the wake of Kentucky's decision to use the NLI's guidelines to force freshman guard Joe Crawford (left) to return to school after he told coach Tubby Smith last week that he wanted to transfer. The NLI says that if a player doesn't finish his freshman season, he loses a year of eligibility unless his school waives that penalty. Kentucky administrators chose not to do that, leaving Crawford little choice but to stay in Lexington and give the Wildcats another chance. Most players are unaware that they don't have to sign a letter of intent. The NLI program is administered not by the NCAA but by the Collegiate Commissioners Association, and its provisions are written to protect schools and coaches, not players. Had Crawford known last April what a bad deal the NLI is for players, it's doubtful he would have signed on the dotted line.


There's no doubt about it: Villanova's Jason Fraser (right) is the most snakebit player in college basketball. Fraser, a 6'10" junior forward who has had three surgeries over the past two years to relieve chronic tendinitis in his knees, finally showed the form that made him one of the most heralded recruits in school history when he had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the Wildcats' 83--78 overtime win at Providence on Jan. 11. However, Fraser broke a bone in his right hand in the second half when a Friar fell on him and underwent surgery last Friday to have a screw inserted in the bone. He is not expected to return until late February, and with leading scorer and rebounder Curtis Sumpter recovering from a sprained right knee, Villanova (9--3) is in a lot of trouble.


1 Wake Forest sophomore guard Chris Paul is the front-runner for national player of the year. Arizona State junior forward Ike Diogu has better stats, but while the Sun Devils lost last Saturday at home to USC to fall below .500 in the Pac-10, Paul had 26 points, eight assists and six rebounds to lead the third-ranked Demon Deacons to a 95--82 thrashing of No. 4 North Carolina.

2 The SEC is way down. With just three teams in the Top 25, the SEC could be looking at no more than five bids to the NCAA tournament, which would be its fewest since 1998.

3UCLA is for real. The Bruins couldn't quite knock off No. 17 Arizona last Saturday in Tucson, losing 76--73, but they are in third place in a weakened Pac-10 and are getting stellar play from 6'7" senior forward Dijon Thompson, who is averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds.

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