Before we begin, please allow me apologize for channeling my inner Barack Obama today. I won’t be reversing myself on the crucial issues of NAFTA, campaign finance spending limits, or the FISA bill, as the duplicitous Democratic candidate for president has done, but I am indeed prepared to join the Senator in the ranks of great “flip-floppers” of our time with my new-found position on the issue of NBA eligibility.
For years, I have argued passionately, on air and in print, that high school basketball stars should not be permitted to enter the NBA draft without experiencing the college game first. I gave thunderous applause to NBA Commissioner David Stern two years ago when he decided prep stars should wait at least one year after high school, and be at least age 19, before becoming eligible. The move essentially forced even the most ‘NBA-ready’ stars to find a college campus and prepare themselves for the rigors of the NBA game and the NBA grind.
It was a brilliant move, and long overdue, I proclaimed. It would put some of the glamour back in the college game, and it would stop unprepared prep phenoms like Kwame Brown from ruining their careers before they ever got started. Everyone would benefit.
I was wrong.
Let these kids dive right into the NBA ocean without their life vests if they wish, and we’ll see who sinks and who swims, because the new rule of requiring just one season of college ball has made a mockery of the NCAA game as a whole, of recruiting in particular, and of the notion of colleges as institutions of higher learning.
A record number of 12 freshman were selected in Thursday’s draft, including the top 3 picks overall in Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and Southern Cal’s OJ Mayo. UCLA’s Kevin Love went at #5, making 4 of the top 5 picks of the ‘one-and-done’ variety, and raising a legitimate question: Are these kids any more ready for the NBA now than they were 12 months earlier? And even if they are, was it worth the instability each brought to their respective college programs in the Rent-a-Center (or Rent-a-Guard or Forward) system that has been created?
Oh sure, you may say, Rose and Beasley tore up the college game in their cameo appearances, and are as ready now as they will ever be. But is Anthony Randolph ready? Randolph, the LSU freshman selected 14th overall by the Warriors, has the potential to develop into a solid rotational player a couple years down the line — maybe even a quality starter — or he could languish at the end of an NBA bench because he’s not ready, thereby eroding his skills due to a lack of activity. And whether he’s ready or not, what has his cup of coffee in Baton Rouge done to help the Tigers?
Trent Johnson, like every coach, battles to bring stars like Randolph to campus in the hopes of building a program around him, and what does he get from Randolph? Thirty-one games and a new road trip in search of the kid’s replacement.
What about J.J. Hickson? Like the other first-year draftees, he had a nice rookie campaign at North Carolina State before being nabbed by the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 19 overall. Is he ready for the NBA? Or could he use another season or two of quality competition, playing 35 minutes a night against other young stars at the collegiate level, instead of eight minutes a night in garbage time in the NBA?
More importantly, would Hickson’s Wolfpack, Randolph’s Tigers, and Love’s Bruins or Mayo’s Trojans, have been better served by letting these kids go straight to the NBA where they’d either flourish or wash out in three years, and recruiting high school seniors of lesser stature who would give them three or four years of solid dedication?
It’s time for the NCAA to take the decision out of the hands of Stern and the NBA. Rather than the league dictating when a player is eligible, the university presidents should mandate that any kid who steps onto a campus and into a scholarship must commit at least two years to the program before turning pro — while remaining academically eligible both years. If a high school senior wants to role the dice and enter the draft, it’s at his peril. But if he wants to hone his game and improve his stock, he’s got to give at least two seasons to the college he selects. One way or the other, the current system has got to go.