CHICAGO — Mo Bamba is fully convinced that he’s ready for the NBA.
He also believes that was the case a year ago.
If Bamba — the massive Texas center who will likely be taking his 7-foot-10 wingspan to a lottery team at the NBA draft next month — was a high school senior in 2020, he probably would have bypassed college and made the jump straight to the league. The expectation around the NBA is that will be the year where so-called “one-and-done” rule will come off the books and players will no longer have to wait a season before going to the pro ranks.
So Bamba went to college and waited his turn, though he’s not sure it was needed.
“I thought about it a lot,” Bamba said. “It’s an area I probably would have explored.”
Out of the 30 first-round picks that will be made at the draft, it’s entirely possible that as many as 25 will have played no more than one season of college basketball. Some didn’t even play in college — there are a couple of European players likely to be first-rounders, and intriguing combo guard Anfernee Simons did a year of postgraduate work at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Simons tested off the charts at the draft combine this week, with a 41 1/2-inch vertical. He’s a former Louisville commit, who decided to hold off on college after the scandal that ultimately led to the dismissal of coach Rick Pitino.
“I’ve just been working hard on all aspects of my game, trying to get better every day,” Simons said.
The NBA makes no secret of the fact that one-and-done doesn’t work ideally for any party involved — the pro ones or the college ones. The league has talked about making 20 the minimum age where a player can enter the NBA; the players’ union has said it would prefer it going back to 18. And now with the college game on the cusp of massive changes amid an ongoing federal investigation, it seems quite likely that the one-and-done policy will be scrubbed soon.
Bamba’s reaction to that: About time.
“It’s only right by the athletes,” Bamba said. “Some kids have lifelong dreams of wanting to play in the NBA. Not manipulating, but changing the rules so we have more of an option as players is what’s most beneficial to us.”
There were 38 freshmen who applied to be early entry candidates in this draft. Some will go back to college, but the majority of those should get picked.
Some guys simply needed the year.
Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played his way onto NBA draft boards and decided to leave after one season, with Wildcats coach John Calipari raving about how hard he worked and how much better he got in his one college season.
And Duke’s Trevon Duval, who had 207 assists in his lone college year, isn’t exactly sure that he was ready to go pro out of high school either.
“My whole thought process and training process would have been a little bit different if the rule was in effect,” Duval said. “I think it’s a good rule. There are definitely kids who can go straight from college to the NBA.”
Sometimes, the perceived one-and-dones get to college and realize they’re not ready.
Miami guard Bruce Brown Jr. came to the Hurricanes with that one-and-done label. He wound up staying for two seasons, and knows that was the better move for his development. Same goes for Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, who insists he’s better for having stayed.
“I’m more ready now,” Bridges said.
In his interviews with teams this week at the combine, Bridges was often asked about why he didn’t come out as a freshman. His sense was that they liked his answer.
“They were kind of impressed with that,” Bridges said. “So, me staying was a good thing. I stayed so I could mature and they respect that about me.”
Bamba sees a similar payoff in himself as well.
As much as he would have liked to be in the NBA already, he’s not resentful about having to wait. And he does concede that the college experience made him better than he was when he exited high school.
“I got everything I wanted out of Texas,” Bamba said. “Obviously, you’d love to win more. You’d love to win a national championship and compete at that level. But as far as relationships and development, I couldn’t be happier.”
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