LAWRENCE, Kan. – LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Sherron Collins consulted family, friends and coaches before deciding between the NBA and one more season at Kansas. Cole Aldrich took a similar approach.
Mostly, though, they talked to each other. I'm not going without you, or something along those lines, is what they said.
This was always going to be a package deal.
After a spring-long discussion, the decision was one more year. The NBA and its riches could wait. They wanted another national championship. Together.
"Cole was the one calling, meeting with me and telling me he needed me to come back," Collins said. "He had a chance to make some money, too, but he wanted to come back. Altogether, it was a good deal."
Collins and Aldrich aren't the only ones who have decided to stick around. Across the country, teams are dotted with talented upperclassmen, players who could have gone on to pro careers but opted to stay.
Go back a dozen or so years and having so many skilled juniors and seniors wouldn't have been noteworthy. Would have been expected.
The landscape has changed. Since Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett blazed the high-school-to-NBA trail, players with even a sliver of pro potential have leaped over the college game to seek the money and the spotlight that comes in the pros.
The NBA tried to slow things down by instituting an age limit, but all that did was delay the departures by a year. One and done became the way to go, with players like Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo stopping off in college just long enough to tie their shoes before moving on.
It's no wonder all that fuss was made when North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough stuck around for four years.
"Our game is younger," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "How many teams do you see now that have a lot of seniors, especially seniors that are really, really good? The Hansbrough situation is totally rare in today's game."
This year has been an exception.
Kansas was No. 1 the first eight weeks of the season and could get there again next week, thanks to Collins and Aldrich. Texas has all those talented freshmen, but is led by seniors Damion James and Dexter Pittman. Juniors Robbie Hummel, JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have made Purdue a national title contender.
Senior Luke Harangody is closing in the Big East's all-time scoring mark at Notre Dame, Jerome Dyson is Connecticut's leading scorer, Matt Bouldin does everything at Gonzaga. There's also James Anderson at Oklahoma State, Cal's Jerome Randle, Duke's Kyle Singler, Da'Sean Butler at West Virginia — players who chose college over the uncertain potential of a paycheck.
"I came back to be with my teammates and enjoy my senior year," said Harangody, who declared for last year's NBA draft but didn't sign with an agent. "So far, it's going great. I don't really have any regrets about anything."
The schools and coaches certainly embrace it, since older players usually give them a better chance to win.
Occasionally, a freshman can handle it by himself. Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a title in 2003 and Pervis Ellison did it at Louisville in 1986. But teams that win titles usually have been together for a year or two, with upperclassmen leading the way.
North Carolina had Hansbrough and returned its core group of players to win last year's title. Kansas had five future pro players who stuck around to win a championship in 2008. Florida got everyone to come back to repeat as champions the year before.
"If you can get a guy that can come for one year, like a Carmelo Anthony, and you can build around him for a season and win a national championship, it makes a whole lot of sense," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Those guys are rare. That does not happen a lot. Even though it happens once every 2-3 years, it doesn't happen a lot on the whole when you're looking at every Division I basketball program."
For the players who stick around, it's never an easy decision. NBA money is life-altering, especially for players who might have grown up poor, and there's the fear of injury. There's also doubt, of trading in a college career for an uncertain future.
Aldrich, whose father has been unemployed for some time because of the recession, made the rare gesture of consulting with his teammate before making a decision.
"It was one those things where you look up to him (Collins) and you say, 'Hey, you know what? We've either got to stay or we've got to do something together,'" Aldrich said. "With each other, we're going to make our team so much better.'"
They have, just like so many other teams led by upperclassmen.