By Ben Osborne

As you can tell, when the time came to plan this issue, which features the amazing freshmen Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose on three covers (as an “A-B-C” cover split, all should be available at your local newsstand/bookstore/Wal-Mart; be a sport and grab all three!) my thoughts were on the college game. Number one, because I wanted to do something different, and number two, because there were so many NBA trade rumors floating around that it was hard to know who the story of the month would be in the League (remember, we usually determine our covers a good five or six weeks before an issue goes on sale, so we have to be pretty confident a player and his team will be the story we thought it would. This is normally not a problem in college, though you could say the Kelvin Sampson situation—which broke after we closed our issue—does change the Eric Gordon story a bit).

It doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge college fan (certainly moreso than my four predecessors as E-i-C; this is not a good or bad thing, but it is a fact) and I appreciate that I have the opportunity to do something different. Add in that this is, as Jay Bilas told me in the Melo/AI issue, “the deepest group of freshmen class since at least the late ’70s,” the timing seemed right to give the best of that group some serious love. And by love, I don’t mean a few In Your Faces. And I also don’t mean Love, as in Kevin, who, while a great talent and a SLAM favorite, is not one of the three best freshmen in the country. Yes, we gave OJ Mayo a cover a few months back, but that was obviously as much for his compelling backstory as for his hoop skills. And that was also our “Back to School/College Preview” issue, so OJ made perfect sense (at least to me). This round of three covers (note: besides Love and OJ, we acknowledge that the likes of Jerryd Bayless, Blake Griffin, James Harden, DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Randolph are nice neophytes, too, but their respective impacts have not been the same as our big 3), is different than OJ in that it drops when the NBA season is in full swing, too. But shoot, March Madness is about to take over the airwaves, and you should know we have an absolute bangin’ pre-Playoff issue in the works as we speak, so F it: the current issue features college players, and I think we did the right thing.

This issue is also a bit about acknowledging SLAM history. Perhaps, had Greg Oden stayed healthy and Kevin Durant and Al Horford made a larger impact on our consciousness, we would have literally re-done SLAM 35 (which featured NBA Rookie of the Year candidates Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Jason Williams in a Tony Gervino masterpiece) with three NBA rookies, but to me, the race for College Freshman of the Year is more compelling this year.

So what do you get in this special issue? Beautifully done photo shoots of the cover subjects, as well as feature/essays by Bonsu Thompson (Beasley), DeMarco Williams (Gordon) and Jake Appleman (Rose) stating their case for their respective subjects, much like Russ (Carter), myself (Pierce) and Scoop (Williams) took turns debating the ROY back in ’99. I don’t want to want to ruin the suspense for anyone by putting the arguments here, but trust that all three writers know their stuff (as well they should; these dudes were pitching me stories on these players all year long, yet another reason I felt compelled to give ’em some pages) and write some entertaining pieces, which are complemented by Cub Buenning’s look at what things would’ve been like had NBA players such as LeBron been subject to the one-year-of-college rule and my personal choice for Freshman of the Year.

Sticking with the college theme, the issue’s got the staff’s annual Elite 8/Final 4/Champion predictions and a thorough old-school story that relives NC State’s miraculous run to the title some 25 years ago this spring. As for you NBA-only heads, we’ve got our typical front-of-the-mag stuff on the League, NBA posters, and several timely NBA features. It’s good stuff, if I do say so myself, and it should be in your area this weekend. Check for it.