BY Elliot Olshansky

Saturday, June 20th 2009, 4:30 PM

What if LeBron James was graduating high school now, instead of four years ago?

James was part of the last class of high school seniors to be allowed to enter the NBA draft, before the league enacted a rule requiring that players be a year out of high school before being drafted.

The rule came about because, while James was more than ready for the NBA at 18, for every player like him, there were 10 high schoolers foolishly tossing away their college eligibility for a shot at NBA money. And even some of those who got to the NBA weren't ready - short-circuiting promising careers and wasting teams' money.

But the rule has had an unintended consequence, creating "one-and-done" players who view college only as a one-year way station standing between them and professional basketball.

These players, using NCAA basketball as a de facto minor league, often wind up at the center of scandal, academic or otherwise. Some leave incomplete coursework (such as Ohio State's Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos), or bigger violations, such as the O.J. Mayo recruiting scandal that resulted in Tim Floyd's resignation at USC.