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Originally published Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

NBA entices one-and-done freshmen

Sports fans are selfish mammals. We — I include myself — want owners to spend money with unbridled alacrity. We want all general...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sports fans are selfish mammals.

We — I include myself — want owners to spend money with unbridled alacrity. We want all general managers to make every move we request because, after all, we know as much as they know. And we want players, no matter how young, to do exactly as we wish.

That means every Ohio State basketball fan asks freshman wunderkind center Greg Oden to please spend just one more season on campus. And every Texas fan fruitlessly prays that Kevin Durant will stay for another trip.

And every fan at Washington, frustrated by a season that took another detour Saturday at Arizona, hopes 7-footer Spencer Hawes will feel so unfulfilled by the frustrations of this injury-and-illness plagued freshman year, that he will declare this season his mulligan and come back for a sophomore season.

Like Oliver Twist, we always want more.

Because of the change in NBA rules this season, the one-and-done freshman is the new big man on campus. Even the best freshmen are forced to spend a season on campus. And every inquiring mind wants to know: Are they staying? Or are they going?

"We'll see," Hawes non-answered before the trip to Arizona.

Hawes isn't ready for the NBA. He needs to strengthen his lower body. Needs to improve his footwork and stamina. He was outplayed Saturday by Arizona freshman Jordan Hill.

But if — more likely when — he leaves at the end of this season, he almost certainly will be a high first-round pick. He has great basketball instincts, soft hands and may become the best-passing big man since Bill Walton.

He may not be ready. He may be frustrated by the fact his team is 4-7 in the Pac-10 and playing nowhere near as well as he had hoped, but that won't matter on draft day.

If the league calls, he'll probably answer. And all of us who are selfish enough to wish we could watch him mature in Montlake and not, say, Memphis will have to live with our disappointment.

"I'll have to wait and see at the end of the season where I'm projected to go," Hawes said. "But it's definitely enticing to think about it."

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It's enticing enough that players as good as Hawes start talking about "The League" by the end of their sophomore years in high school. They see all of their peers in the summer AAU tournaments, meet them at camps and talk about their futures.

Getting into "The League" becomes their magnificent obsession.

"It's just fun knowing those guys like Kevin Durant and [North Carolina's] Brandan Wright and playing against them," Hawes said. "You sit back and think, 'Man, it wasn't that long ago we were playing high-school AAU together, and now these guys are getting ready to be top draft picks.'

"It's fun to watch that progression. You think about your future occupation and how you'll be playing against them time and time again. That's fun to think about."

Each coach who recruits a one-and-done player knows the risks. Each makes a deal with the devil. Thad Matta with Oden. Rick Barnes with Durant. Next season it will be USC coach Tim Floyd with O.J. Mayo.

Each hopes that his player will do for him what Carmelo Anthony's one season with Syracuse did for coach Jim Boeheim. Just win a championship, baby.

"I don't think Coach Boeheim feels too bad about how that went with Carmelo," Romar said. "And you look at Kevin Durant, where would Texas be without him? So I definitely think it's worth it."

But coaches can feel the clocks throbbing in their heads. They don't want to squander this season.

With four weeks left in the regular season, the Huskies are the most precarious of bubble teams. And without a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament this Season-With-Spencer will feel at least half-empty.

"I don't think it was the idea coming in that he wouldn't be at full strength for half the year," Romar said. "I know that wasn't what he envisioned, but it is what it is. But I think we've seen what can happen with a healthy Spencer Hawes. I mean he can really help you.

"I only think taking a one-and-done is not worth it when you have a guy that's planning on one-and-done, so that's how he's playing his season. Playing like, 'I've got to get my numbers. It's all about me. Everything has to be structured so that I can get drafted high.' "

That's not Spencer Hawes.

"Spencer is all about the team," Romar said. "Whatever the team wants he's going to do it. If that's the case, even in a one-and-done, it's a win-win situation."

It's a win-win, unless you're a fan and your avarice demands more. You feel the great whoosh of time and the disparity between what you wanted and what you got is greater than you had hoped.

Fans always want more. But, in the end, it's never our call.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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