Can anyone win a tournament with a bunch of raw talent that has not had time to be shaped and molded into a team? Shouldn’t these young men have to stay in school longer than one year to prepare themselves for life beyond the sport? And what responsibility do coaches have to push for changing a rule that works for neither the players nor themselves?
My answer to the last question: Plenty.
This “one and done” rule is not really fair to players, for one. People can fight in wars at 18, or pursue professional careers in baseball, golf, tennis or the arts. But they can’t play in the NBA. With few exceptions, the rule for top amateur basketball players in this country is simple: You must be 19 and have attended college for at least one season before you enter the NBA draft.
The rule’s existence also creates difficult challenges for the coaches who lead college teams. Many coaches have spoken of hating the rule for the chaos it can inflict on their rosters. And presumably, some of them also think it’s unfair to force an unqualified, disinterested student to attend college classes when all they want to do professionally is play basketball.
Take Kentucky coach John Calipari, for instance. With a multi-million dollar contract predicated primarily on his ability to win games, he, like other coaches, focuses on doing just that. This means recruiting the best high-school players in the country, giving them big roles on the team right away, encouraging them to turn pro after one season if they’re expected to be a high pick, and then starting the whole process over the next season.
Calipari has produced five freshman first-round draft picks in his two years at Kentucky (six if you count Enes Kanter from Turkey, who wasn’t allowed to play while at UK but did practice with the team), and Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are locks to increase that number this June. “Coach Cal” is proud of these facts. After all, becoming a first-round pick in the NBA draft creates a financial windfall for a player and his family — and one that might disappear completely if the player stayed in school and got hurt before he turned pro.
As a result, one of Calipari’s biggest challenges as a coach is balancing team goals with individual ones. When there is so much focus among players on when they can turn pro, it can become hard to get them (and their families, friends and the various hangers-on whom NBA prospects accumulate) to put their current team first. The process of building camaraderie becomes rushed, and the best players don’t get to develop through experience because they leave the program so fast.