It is time for the one-and-done rule to go away. It is a pox. It is draining much of the joy out of college basketball for players, coaches and fans. It has made a complete mockery of the notion that the best college basketball players have any intention of graduating. They are mercenaries passing through only because the rules force them to be there.
It is also time for everyone to stop making excuses and find a solution. It is not that hard. One would think, based on the way the NBA, the NBA Players Association and the NCAA react every time the issue comes up, that they were being asked to solve the problems of the Middle East.
The rule will go away when everyone in power decides it needs to go away and is willing to compromise in order to do so. The NBA, first under David Stern and now Commissioner Adam Silver, keeps insisting this is about the players’ association refusing to cooperate.
“They see it as a negotiating chip,” Stern said, shortly before he retired. “We aren’t willing to give up what they want in return for making the change.”
That means the NBA doesn’t consider it important enough that it’s willing to give the players something in return. How about a higher salary cap? Forbes magazine recently valued 11 NBA franchises at more than $1 billion. That’s a huge leap since the 2011 lockout when Stern and the owners were pleading poverty and insisting the players had to take less money. Since then, the league has signed two massive TV contracts and the Los Angeles Clippers sold for $2 billion.
So here’s what Silver needs to do: meet with Michele Roberts, the new head of the union, and say the following: “Look, we’re both already rattling sabers in anticipation of the collective bargaining contract being reopened in 2017. Let’s you and I agree that you guys are going to get some more money. But as part of that, let’s also agree we’re going to use the baseball model going forward when it comes to draft eligibility. It makes sense and it’s better for the players and for the sport.”
The baseball rule: Any player graduating from high school is eligible for the draft. Once he finds out where he’s drafted and what kind of money he can make to turn pro, he then decides whether to turn pro or go to college. None of this blind guessing. One of the reasons so many underclassmen put their names into the basketball draft each year is because they have agents telling them, “Don’t listen to your coach, don’t listen to any committee, I know general managers and you’ll go in the lottery. Or in the first round.”
Are they often lying? Of course they are. They can’t make any money off players who are still in college.
Remember, everyone selected in the first round of the NBA draft is guaranteed a contract. Second round and free agency? Nothing. So, if a player is drafted in the first round and the money’s guaranteed, he will probably want to sign. If not, he might want to go to college.
In baseball, if you go that route, you can’t go back in the draft for three years. That means you have to make some effort to go to class and to make academic progress. It means if you leave school after three years there’s a reasonable chance you might come back and graduate. It means that your coach isn’t recruiting your replacement before you play a single game. It means you don’t have to face the ‘are you going or not going?’ questions until your junior year. It means you might actually get to experience college. And it takes the predatory agents out of the process for two years.
The one-and-dones don’t go to college, they represent a college. Many are being told where they will go in the draft before they play a game. Kentucky Coach John Calipari held an NFL-style scouting combine for NBA executives last fall — before the season began.
Two of the best big men in the country this winter are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminski and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas. “You want to know why they’re so good?” former Maryland coach Gary Williams asked rhetorically. “Because they’re seniors. They weren’t stars as freshmen and they stayed in school and learned how to play. They’re men.
“But if you’re a freshman and you have talent you have to turn pro. Everyone tells you that you have to turn pro and if you don’t, people look at you like you’re some kind of a loser. You get peer pressure, agent pressure, parent pressure. It’s all about, ‘How soon can I get to the League?’ ”
Last March, when Mercer upset Duke in the NCAA tournament, Jabari Parker was completely schooled by a Mercer senior named Jakob Gollon. Because of injuries, Gollon was a sixth-year player who had turned 24 the previous November. Parker was barely 19. Gollon had played in 118 more college games than Parker. In all likelihood, Parker, the No. 2 pick in last summer’s NBA draft, will be an all-star someday. Gollon will never play in the NBA. If Parker couldn’t handle Gollon, how could he possibly be ready for the NBA?
“He’s not ready,” said former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who broadcast the game on radio that day. “But he has to come out. He has no choice. There’s too much money there for him and he can’t go back to college and then face his friends back home. It’s not right, it’s not fair, it just is.”
So let’s change it. If someone is a true star with no interest in going to college, let him turn pro out of high school. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and others did it with great success. Others were utter failures, but they almost certainly would also have failed with one year of college under their belt.
The game of basketball has serious issues at every level, but this is one way to improve it. The commissioner and the owners need to put a chip on the table for the union. And the union needs to take the chip and make a deal.
Not soon. Now.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.