Ah, the value and satisfaction of staying in school for four years.
What should be the norm across college athletics is not all that apparent or popular in the basketball world anymore as the future of the Association would rather settle for the instant gratification of millions of dollars over their development and helping their teams succeed.
This is not the case with two of the brightest stars in this year’s NCAA Tournament who are on a collision course to open the Sweet 16 Saturday afternoon — Cameron Krutwig and Ethan Thompson.
Krutwig is in his fourth year at Loyola-Chicago and was a member of the 2018 Ramblers’ squad that reached the Final Four when he was a freshman. Since then, he has continued to improve as a player and will go down as one of the all-time great Ramblers.
At the end of the 2020-21 Missouri Valley Conference regular season, Krutwig was named the MVC Player of the Year after averaging 15 points per game and just under seven rebounds per game. He also became just the fourth player in MVC history to amass 1,500 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists, joining the likes of Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Hersey Hawkins.
Now as the leader of Loyola-Chicago instead of the breakout newcomer, Krutwig has a great opportunity to lead the Ramblers back to another Final Four and, potentially, a national title game.
As for Thompson, he didn’t have it as successful at Oregon State.
In the 21st century, the Beavers only reached the tournament once before this year (2016). After coming from a high school that was a perennial state-championship contender in Bishop Montgomery in Torrance, California, Thompson couldn’t find postseason success in his first three years as a Beaver.
He could’ve taken a route that other talented players do and either leave college to go pro somewhere in the world or try to transfer to make his tourney dreams come true. However, Thompson stuck with head coach Wayne Tinkle and the two have led Oregon State to a Pac-12 Championship and a berth in the Sweet 16.
Thompson and Krutwig are two athletes reaping the benefits of their patience and commitment to their programs. Are they bound to be NBA stars after college? Probably not, but I find it more admirable that these two hung around for all four years of college, developed their games as much as possible and are now awarded with a Sweet 16 matchup Saturday.
I’m tired of the annual conveyor belt of college players only using their one year to get on the NBA map and only to put on solid, individual performance instead of seeking team wins and trying to dance in March.
It was refreshing to not have a Duke or Kentucky in the tournament this year, but the superstar mantra was shifted over to Oklahoma State with projected No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham.
Cunningham showed uninspired play in the two games the Cowboys played in March Madness. He shot a putrid 3/14 from the field in a first-round matchup against the undersized Liberty Flames. Cunningham had a fine 24-point performance in Oklahoma State’s loss to Oregon State, but he was never the best player on the court in either of Oklahoma State’s two games. He never took over a game like Ja Morant or Zion Williamson did when they played in the 2019 tournament.
It’s not popular, but I standby that it is time for the one-and-done rule to be done with. You want to go pro when you aren’t ready? Go to Australia or Europe.
If you enter the NBA Draft after just one year in college, you are telling everyone that you are ready to be a superstar now. I’ve never heard of a person in a specific field ready to go from one year of experience straight into the big leagues of their job.
I’ve practiced and studied journalism for three years now. Did I apply to top jobs after my sophomore year of college? No. I just continue to improve and prepare myself to apply for those jobs that I believe I am ready for. I’m giving my all to what I have now and not looking at what’s ahead.
This is the beautiful mindset Krutwig and Thompson have. They are enjoying the present and not worried about the prospects of what’s next or the professional level.
Now, they’ll go toe-to-toe to tipoff the Sweet 16 and it is going to be a fight to the end.