Sporting seniors should still play tourneys

In the golden age of one-and-done players in college basketball, standout freshmen are often the center of media attention regarding their futures in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Certain programs such as Kentucky and Duke have become entangled in the cycle of this type of talented players. John Calipari took over as Kentucky’s head coach in 2009. After his first season, he had four freshmen (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton) drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Since 2010, 55 players have left for the NBA following their freshman year in school, and 14 played at Kentucky.

Duke has produced its fair share of these talented freshman as well, including Jahlil Okafor in 2015, Jabari Parker in 2014, Austin Rivers in 2012 and Kyrie Irving in 2011.

This season, all the attention has been on Kentucky guards Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Washington guard Markelle Fultz, Kansas forward Josh Jackson, Duke guard Jayson Tatum and UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, whose father Lavar has made more than enough headlines this season. Without question, these players will all hear their names called fairly early in June’s draft.

With so much attention banking on the young talent and potential of all these freshmen, oftentimes appreciation and opportunity for senior players who stick around to finish their degrees gets lost in the mix. It is unfortunate that age and maturity is often viewed negatively by NBA scouts, and these players who may be better suited to handle the pressure of rising stardom in win or bust organizations such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks may never get their opportunities to contribute to an NBA team.

To the benefit of seniors, there is hope for them to get a chance in the NBA. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (P.I.T.) is a four-day, 12-game tournament that welcomes 64 of the best college seniors from across the country and allows them to perform for and impress representatives from every NBA organization.

According to the Portsmouth Invitational official website, the tournament will host its 65th tournament this year and boasts quite an impressive resume of future NBA superstars, including John Stockton, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Tim Hardaway and Rick Berry.

The tournament has welcomed several Baylor seniors over the years, including Tweety Carter in 2010 and LaceDarius Dunn in 2011.

Not only does the tournament take the spotlight off of the glorified one-and-done players and focus it on those who have stuck around for multiple opportunities to win an NCAA championship or, for the smaller mid-major schools, the chance to play in one NCAA tournament game. The tournament rewards hard work and dedication to an entire program, not just one’s individual goals as a basketball player.

This year’s Final Four was dominated by veteran teams and solid senior leadership. South Carolina had SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell and fellow guard Duane Notice. North Carolina had forwards Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. Oregon had forward Chris Boucher, who missed the entire tournament due to tearing his ACL in the PAC-12 tournament but was instrumental to the Ducks’ success this season. Gonzaga had fifth-year senior and Kareem Abdul Jabaar Award-winning center Przemek Karnowski and guard Jordan Mathews, a graduate transfer from Cal, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Experience paid bigger dividends than youth and raw talent. The freshmen will make the headlines and may be the ones stuffing the stat sheets and the highlight reels come October when the 2017-18 season begins but for now, let’s give the seniors their due. Let us acknowledge the thrills and the incredible journeys these four-year players have given their fans, programs and universities. This is what the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is all about. So let’s sick back, relax and watch these seniors woo us as fans (and hopefully NBA scouts) one last time.

The tournament runs April 12-15 at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Va.