Monday, November 14, 2016

One and Done Versus the Alternative

Back in 1995, Kevin Garnett made a calculated decision to bypass his NCAA and head straight into the NBA.  Much to the dismay of some sports purists, he was drafted 5th overall and the TimberWolves were vindicated with an instant impact player.  The message to other promising prospects was clear as day- declare early and often, maximize your earning potential both on and off the court.  Prep to Pro success stories are there just as much as NCAA to Pro and FIBA to NBA, but teams and the media instead focused on the tragedies.  Too many busts... kids not being ready for life on their own... agents preying on talent and cutting them off once they got their cut.

It peaked in 2004 with 8 of the first 19 picks skipping college, and NBA teams beginning to show more restraint, using more second round picks on preps than the previous 10 years combined.  Much to the detriment of everyone involved, David Stern intervened and pushed the minimum age for the NBA draft back to 19, making it very difficult to forego the NCAA.

The impact is still currently hitting both franchises.  While the intent was to "protect kids from themselves" it really instead just shifted the role of the predator from agent to coach.  The NCAA basketball product was supposed to benefit from the availability of this youth, but most players only give a glimmer of potential while adjusting to the new game before realizing that NCAA eligibility is a pain in the ass and, well, declare early and often.

I admired Brandon Jennings taking off for Europe to not perpetuate the charade.  The experience may not have been embraced at the time, but he clearly came into the NBA a more polished player having not been the NCAA mealticket of a program for a year beating up on never-pro caliber talent in the PAC-10... err 12, whatever.

So while his idea may have been right, the execution of it in a foreign-speaking nation with financially-strapped teams in a win-now atmosphere may have put a depressing outlook on playing basketball.  A story coming out of Australia offers a different spin on the Prep to Pro transition, one of opportunity and reward. With so much scrutiny being paid toward NCAA finances and compensation, one thing has been sorely overlooked: the point of enrolling in college is not to play basketball and not to stay eligible.  It is to become educated and be able to positively contribute to the community/society, regardless of whether they intend to pursue basketball as a vocation.  If a recruit is really concerned about this, or really has no desire to further their education, they should not be forced into that situation.

Coaches should identify these players as "unrecruitable".  For instance, the Armed Forces actively recruits teenagers to enlist right out of high school.  Many kids want and need that opportunity.  Many, however, do not, as they may already have college, vocation, and life opportunities ahead of them.  Army recruiters can pitch patriotism, service, training, but bottom line, cannot improve your situation unless you WANT to be there.  And that is the problem.  So many of these kids get to school and go through the motions for 6 months, doing just enough to get an invite to the pre-draft camp, that none of the parties benefit from the deal.  Players don't gain the experience promised to improve much more than having gone straight from high school.  Coaches and schools have to deal with compliance, eligibility, and attendance for guys that don't really want to be there, and the NBA misses out on possible impact talent.  The NCAA gets to sell more ad space based on their likeness, so good deal for them, though.

One and done is the worst.  Schools paying players is not the answer, because that only wrecks the playing field further.  Open up the draft, open up the foreign market, and let the market dictate where the right talent goes.

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