By Michael Kinney
For three weeks out of the year, college basketball takes over the sports landscape. From the day the field of 64 is announced through championship game played, March Madness sits on top of the perch as far as popularity around the country.
The pageantry, the emotional fan bases, the drama and finality of each game has many NBA players expressing how much they miss those days. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was not one of them.
Despite the excitement that surrounds the yearly chase for the Final Four, Durant said he still doesn’t regret his decision to leave Texas after his freshman season without accomplishing what was his ultimate team goal at the time.
“It would have been fun, but I take the route I went every day,” Durant said. “College was fun. I miss being a college student.”
In his one season at Texas, Durant led the Longhorns to a No. 4 seed in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Despite Durant exploding for 30 points and nine rebounds, they were was bounced out in the second round by USC.
Durant went on to rack up all the individual accolades he could carry. They included Big 12 Player of the Year, first team All-American, the Wooden Award and the Naismith Player of the Year. He declared for the draft soon afterward and was taken with the No. 2 pick by the Seattle Super Sonics. Durant soon became one of the biggest basketball stars in the world.
“The Final Four would have been cool,” Durant said. “No doubt I would have loved to play in that. It was a goal of mine. But I will take the route that I took.”
Durant said he still gets excited about March Madness because he loves the game of basketball. But after being in the NBA for almost a decade, he recognizes there is a huge difference between the two levels.
“It’s different, man. It’s like you are a kid at that point,” Durant said. “Now, being in this league for so long, it’s like you are looking at your younger brothers play. It’s a different perspective from being a veteran in the NBA from a guy that’s in college.”
But even though college game is different, when he watches the contests, Durant can spot the players who have a future at the next level.
“The college game is so much different, so much slower,” Durant said. “So many fouls being called, you can sit in the lane. It’s a slow game of basketball, but you can still see the guys who stand out. The really great players, they stand out. And the guys you know who are going to be pretty good in the league, you only need to glance at them for a couple of possessions.”
Having to listen to Randy Foye (Villanova), Nick Collison (Kansas), Dion Waiters (Syracuse), and Kyle Singler (Duke), whose teams made deep runs in the tourney was not fun for Durant. But it didn’t keep him from watching the NCAA tournament like everyone else.
“No, it’s not very fun,” Durant said of having teammates who have teams in Final Four. “All they do is brag. But it’s a great time of year for basketball. It’s at its highest level for college basketball right now. March Madness has gotten so big over the whole country. The whole world basically. Everybody is tuned in to these games. (NBA) doesn’t even have a game on championship night. You can tell these Final Four games are huge. That’s the future of our game.”