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From left: Kentucky freshmen and future top NBA draft picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist celebrate during their 2012 national championship run. (David J. Phillip/AP) LSU freshman and future No. 1 pick Ben Simmons receives a technical foul during a 2016 SEC tournament loss that ended his team’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty) Current Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett celebrate after a regular season win. Both are expected to enter the NBA draft and be selected near the top. (Lance King/Getty)

Sports

Do ‘one-and-done’ teams succeed in March?

From left: Kentucky freshmen and future top NBA draft picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist celebrate during their 2012 national championship run. (David J. Phillip/AP) LSU freshman and future No. 1 pick Ben Simmons receives a technical foul during a 2016 SEC tournament loss that ended his team’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty) Current Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett celebrate after a regular season win. Both are expected to enter the NBA draft and be selected near the top. (Lance King/Getty)

For some players in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, this will be their first — and last — year competing for a college title. An elite group of freshmen is expected to enter the NBA draft this summer, and these players will spend the next few weeks of March Madness trying to both take home a collegiate title and improve their draft position.

Many of these players would already be in the NBA were it not for the league’s “one-and-done” rule instituted before the 2006 draft, which states that players must be at least one year out of high school and 19 years old (in the year of the draft) to enter the league.

More than 100 players have had a one-and-done season since then, playing college ball for a year without compensation while risking injury before being selected in the draft. Just last month, Duke freshman Zion Williamson – the projected No. 1 pick – had a brief but significant scare when he suffered a right knee injury in a game against North Carolina. (It was luckily just a sprain, and he is already back playing at full strength.)

The controversial rule also created a divide in strategy among coaches at elite college programs. Is it valuable to recruit the best players in the country, even if you will likely only get to coach them for one year?

The data shows that if a coach is going to invest in one-and-done players, he should invest heavily.

Nearly 100 teams have had at least a single one-and-done player since 2006, producing four national titles. “Unstacked” one-and-done teams – those giving less than 30 percent of their minutes to one-and-done players – haven’t always looked impressive, often missing the tournament entirely. But there have been 10 teams that were stacked with these players, and they almost always played deep into the tournament.

“Unstacked” one-and-done teams do much worse than “stacked” ones

Share of teams with at least one such player that advanced to each round

Less than 30 percent of minutes went to one-and-dones (87 teams)

0%

50%

100%

Made

tournament

Round of 32

Sweet 16

A quarter of

teams missed the tournament

Elite Eight

Final Four

National final

Won title

More than 30 percent of minutes went to one-and-dones (10 teams)

0%

50%

100%

Made

tournament

Round of 32

Sweet 16

Elite Eight

Final Four

National final

Won title

Texas (2011) is the only team to miss the Sweet 16

Less than 30 percent of minutes went to one-and-dones (87 teams)

0%

50%

100%

Made tournament

Round of 32

Sweet 16

Elite Eight

A quarter of

teams missed the tournament

Final Four

National final

Won title

More than 30 percent of minutes went to one-and-dones (10 teams)

0%

50%

100%

Made tournament

Round of 32

Sweet 16

Elite Eight

Final Four

Texas (2011) is the only team to miss the Sweet 16

National final

Won title

Less than 30% of minutes went to one-and-dones (87 teams)

More than 30% of minutes went to one-and-dones (10 teams)

0%

50%

100%

0%

50%

100%

Made tournament

Round of 32

Sweet 16

Elite Eight

A quarter of

teams missed the tournament

Final Four

National final

Texas (2011) is the only team to miss the Sweet 16

Won title

Note: Since 2005-06 season. Share of team minutes measured across the entire season.

Six of those “stacked” teams were coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari, the most aggressive adopter of this strategy, including a team featuring elite freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that won the national title in 2012. Duke won its most recent national title in 2015 under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who went all in on the strategy after avoiding one-and-done players for years.

Here’s how every team with a one-and-done player did in the NCAA tournament.

Click for more information

Share of minutes played by one-and-done players

This year, Duke will have as many as four potential one-and-done players in the tournament — Williamson, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones — based on draft predictions from NBADraft.net.

No team has ever been so reliant on one-and-done players. As the overall No. 1 seed, the Blue Devils are expected to go deep in the tournament. But so are fellow top seeds Gonzaga and Virginia, who have no freshmen projected to get drafted. Many of this year’s teams that had a single one-and-done player missed the tournament altogether.

This year, Duke is all in on one-and-dones

Share of minutes played this season by projected one-and-done players

0%

30%

50%

100%

Duke (No. 1 seed)

Kentucky (No. 2)

UNC (No. 1)

Indiana (missed)

Arizona St. (No. 11)

WKU (missed)

LSU (No. 3 seed)

Texas (missed)

USC (missed)

Oregon (No. 12)

Vanderbilt (missed)

0%

30%

50%

100%

Duke (No. 1 seed)

Kentucky (No. 2)

North Carolina (No. 1)

Indiana (missed)

Arizona State (No. 11)

W. Kentucky (missed)

LSU (No. 3 seed)

Texas (missed)

Southern Cal (missed)

Oregon (No. 12)

Vanderbilt (missed)

0%

30%

50%

100%

Duke (No. 1 seed)

Kentucky (No. 2)

North Carolina (No. 1)

Indiana (missed)

Arizona State (No. 11)

W. Kentucky (missed)

LSU (No. 3 seed)

Texas (missed)

Southern Cal (missed)

Oregon (No. 12)

Vanderbilt (missed)

Thirteen teams have won national titles since the one-and-done era began. Six of them had more minutes played by upperclassmen than freshmen and sophomores. In 2014, Connecticut won a shocking title as a No. 7 seed in a season during which almost half of its minutes were played by seniors, the most of any title winner. There is still a lot of value in being able to develop players over multiple seasons.

With that said, most schools that have won titles by relying on upperclassmen have also used the one-and-done strategy at some point. Louisville, which won a national title in 2013 that was later vacated, is the only championship school since 2006 that did not have a single one-and-done player during this era.

Players who head to college with the intention of going to the draft after a single year of play usually pick elite programs with distinguished coaches and a deep history of tournament success. Sometimes unexpected schools can snag a one-and-done player, however. Steven Adams, from New Zealand, attended Pittsburgh and went 12th overall in the 2013 NBA draft after his team was blown out in the first round of his only NCAA tournament. Then-coach Jamie Dixon had played professionally in New Zealand and was able to recruit Adams based on his connections there.

Where the one-and-done rule goes from here

The entire one-and-done recruitment strategy may soon become extinct. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association is likely to change in time for the 2022 draft, once again allowing high schoolers to skip college and go directly to the pros.

This was the status quo in the league starting in the 1970s, when the Supreme Court struck down a rule requiring players to wait until four years after high school graduation to get drafted. Few high school players actually bypassed college altogether, however, until Kevin Garnett declared for the 1995 draft. He was followed by a steady flow of high school players who rose to stardom, such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

An explosion of “preps to pros” prompted the one-and-done rule

Number of high schoolers selected in each NBA draft

8

6

4

2

One-and-done rule instituted

0

1995

2000

2005

8

6

Kevin Garnett becomes the first high schooler to go straight to the NBA since 1975

4

2

One-and-done rule instituted

0

1998

1996

1994

2006

2000

2002

2004

8

6

Kevin Garnett becomes the first high schooler to go straight to the NBA since 1975

4

2

One-and-done rule instituted

0

1997

1998

1999

1996

1994

1995

2001

2006

2000

2002

2003

2004

2005

As more and more high schoolers declared for the draft, however, it became clear that many were simply not ready to contribute in the NBA. Some would go undrafted and never play in the league. But even worse, in the eyes of NBA franchises, were high school seniors who were drafted but never lived up to their high expectations.

Kwame Brown, the first No. 1 overall pick to come straight out of high school, is notorious for being one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. A highly touted McDonald’s all-American, Brown was selected by the Washington Wizards in 2001 and proceeded to average 6.6 points per game over 12 NBA seasons.

The one-and-done rule was created to prevent players such as Brown from entering the NBA before their skills could be better assessed. It also prevented future stars such as Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis – NBA-ready out of high school – from earning paychecks for a season while they risked injury every minute they were on the court. And it undercut the traditional argument against paying NCAA players, that their compensation came in the form of the free education that came with an athletic scholarship.

Texas freshman Kevin Durant leaves the floor after a second-round loss to Southern Cal in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Durant would go second overall in the NBA draft that June. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

A decade since it was created, the movement to eliminate the rule has gained momentum. The year 2022 may seem far away, but NBA teams are already starting to swap picks for that draft. The players who would be eligible to enter that draft straight from high school are just high school freshmen now. Some of them, such as 15-year-old Michigan native Emoni Bates, are already making a name for themselves.

Brittany Renee Mayes

Brittany Renee Mayes joined The Washington Post as a general assignment graphics reporter in June 2018. She previously worked at NPR on the visuals team as a news applications developer.

Reuben Fischer-Baum and Armand Emamdjomeh contributed to this report.

About this story

The Washington Post collected data from the Sports-reference.com College Basketball Player Season Finder and NCAA Tournament Matchup Finder, as well as the Basketball Reference Draft Finder.

To determine one-and-done players, The Post counted any drafted player who classified as a freshman during or after 2006. Players who declared but went undrafted are not counted. 2019 draft projections from NBADraft.net and stats from Sports-reference.com as of March 19 were used to calculate the share of minutes by projected one-and-done players this season.

The Post used the cumulative sum of the number of teams who have advanced through the tournament to calculate how well a team had done in the tournament. Additionally, The Post removed schools where three or more players had incomplete minutes played data, where there was only minutes played data for players who left early for the NBA draft or where there was no minutes played data at all.

Drafted high school players from Basketball-reference.com. School logos from Sports Logos.net.

Top photos by David J. Phillip/AP, Andy Lyons/Getty and Lance King/Getty.

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