The Washington Wizards had a relatively muted locker room Saturday night after a win over the Atlanta Hawks pushed them another step closer to clinching their first playoff berth since 2008. As players got dressed, they glanced over their shoulders to watch Wisconsin defeat Arizona in the NCAA tournament and offered critiques about the referees and the quality of the game overall.
John Wall was perhaps the most attentive and engrossed, politely asking a group of reporters to move out of the way so he would have a better line of sight for the televisions. Wall is four years removed from his days at Kentucky, and failing to win a national championship is the only regret he has about leaving college after one season.
“I wanted to stay. I really wanted to stay because my whole goal was to win a national championship,” Wall said. Leaving after one year “wasn’t my intention. You can’t beat going No. 1 anyway. You don’t want to risk injuries or anything like that coming back, so I decided to go.”
The NBA and the players’ union created the age minimum as part of the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, requiring eligible players to turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft and be at least one year removed from high school if they are born in the United States.
The No. 1 overall pick has been a college freshman in six of the past eight drafts in the one-and-done era. But if new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has his way, the delay between high school and an NBA payday will be at least one year longer.
Since taking over for David Stern in February, Silver has made it known that one of his priorities is to raise the league’s minimum age from 19 to 20 and effectively create the two-and-done system. Silver wants the NCAA to play a role in eligibility, believing that colleges play an important role in the development of players. The NBA initially proposed the change to the players during the 2011 collective bargaining negotiations but elected to table the conversations and return at a later date.
“It is my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people for a longer amount of time before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league,” Silver said during NBA all-star weekend. “I think ultimately this is a team sport; it’s not an individual sport. I think from a college standpoint if those teams could have an opportunity to jell, to come together, if those players had the benefit to play for some of these great college coaches for longer periods of time, I think it would lead to stronger college basketball and stronger NBA ball as well.”
The Wizards have five American born players on their roster who played fewer than two years in college, including preps-to-pros players Al Harrington and Martell Webster. Harrington, a 15-year-veteran, is troubled by the push to make basketball players wait longer before entering the league but believes a change is inevitable with the players’ union weakened after the last collective bargaining agreement.
“Older players are going to hopefully get two more years out of their career by keeping the younger guys out. I don’t like it, but it’s going to happen,” said Harrington, who went 25th overall to Indiana in the 1998 draft. The NBA owners “always get what they want anyway.”
Coach Randy Wittman was an assistant in Minnesota, where Kevin Garnett revolutionized the game by declaring for the 1995 NBA draft straight out of high school, so he understands that not every basketball prodigy should be forced to go to college. But Wittman also believes the current system needs to be changed.
“Everybody kind of wants it, and nobody wants to admit it,” Wittman said. “I would like to see it, in all honesty, like baseball. If there’s a kid that wants to come right out of high school that’s ready to go, he might be able to do that, and if not, he goes to college three years.
“I just think it’s going to make both the NCAA better and our game better. I just think it’s a win-win for both sides,” he continued. “I don’t think there is a better situation than going to college for a couple of years. Think about your lives, some of our the best years of our lives were going to college.”
Webster was among the last class of players to enter the league directly out of high school in 2005. Looking back, however, Webster wishes the age minimum had been in place a year earlier.
“If I could do it over again, I would go to school,” said Webster, who had committed to the University of Washington before going sixth overall to Portland. “I think guys should go to college. It’s a social void that you’ll never be able to replace.”
Bradley Beal left college after one season at Florida but wouldn’t have had a problem with being forced to go back for an extra year. “I’m a big fan of school. I think you should do at least a year or two. That much I’ll agree upon,” Beal said. “At the same time, I feel if an individual feels he’s ready for that level, what should hold him back from that? I guess you can see both sides of it.”
As a fifth-year senior, Wall considered entering the 2009 NBA draft since he would’ve turned 19 later that year. But he remembered the vow he made to his late father to go to college and elected to attend Kentucky instead. Wall doesn’t feel the current system needs to be adjusted. “I feel like if a kid is ready, you can let him go after the first year,” he said. “If not, then they should stay.”