The biggest ongoing subplot of the 2011 college hoops offseason is the looming NBA lockout. Frankly, there isn't a close second.
Not only could the new collective bargaining agreement -- which could extend the NBA draft age limit to two years or do away with the rule entirely -- entirely remake the college game for the second time in six years. The lockout was also supposed to have had a more immediate effect: Namely, most predicted the threat of a shortened NBA season would scare some highly touted draft prospects into staying in school for another year.
Did that actually happen? The evidence is murky. Yes, players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, and Perry Jones all turned down probable top-five selections to stay in school. But none of those players cited the lockout as the primary reason for their returns; all three said some combination of a national title chase and another year with friends on campus were the biggest factors in their decisions.
And in the meantime, plenty of other players -- Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight among them -- didn't seem the least bit worried about a lockout. Not to mention the large group of players who probably shouldn't have stayed in the NBA draft but did. Given all that, how important could the lockout really have been?
We may never really know the answer; there are too many interrelated factors, too many kids and their respective decisions, to tease out anything resembling a conclusion anytime soon. But thanks to Kentucky forward Terrence Jones -- and Jones' mother -- we do have at least one open example of the lockout playing a major role in a lottery pick's decision to return to school. From the Oregonian:
Jones' mother said perhaps the strongest influence that kept her son in school was the possibility of an NBA lockout. The NBA collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
"At least you know school is a for-sure thing," Mashia-Jones said.
Strangely enough, that quote makes Jones the first player, or at least the first projected lottery pick, to admit as much. Whether the lockout played a major role in other big decisions this spring is up for debate. At the very least, it had to have some impact on Barnes, Sullinger, and Perry Jones -- perhaps more so than others.
Returning to school to play for a bad team? Maybe you take your chances on the lockout anyway. Returning to school to contend for a national title, as Barnes, Sullinger, and Terrence Jones will do? Even when the NBA isn't facing a massive league-changing work stoppage, that sounds like a lot more fun.