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Faux champions/Why go?

Fri, May 20th, 2011
Posted in Sports

In 1996, a requirement for one of my high school English classes was to complete a persuasive paper. My topic was, "Why college underclassmen basketball players should be allowed to go pro." Centerpiece in my debate was the 1995 draft class. Picks 1-4, Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace were all college sophomores (who declared early). Pick five, Kevin Garnett, came straight from high school. I don't remember why I argued for their non-amateurism (pro-dom). The freedom to go after the money was probably the most compelling reason. Since then, the trend has only de-escalated, and my stance has done a 180. And by de-escalated, I don't mean "has gotten better." I mean the trend has escalated in the wrong direction. On a routine basis, the nation's pre-eminent HS players come to college (cause an NBA rule mandates it), they stay a year or two (or until they are 19, the NBA's age requirement), and then declare for the draft. Resultantly, on a routine basis, the state of college basketball is in flux. On a routine basis, (sometimes entire) teams turnover their talent season-to-season. Parity then becomes the norm rather than the exception. The NCAA puts on lame National Championship games, like the last two between Duke/UConn and Butler. The NBA, intern, is a bunch of teams with a bunch of indistinguishable players (without college resumes) that no one really cares about.

I know what some people are probably saying; "the Duke-Butler game was an amazing contest between David and Goliath nearly decided at the buzzer by a miraculous half-court shot!" That's true. It also was a contest pitting two teams barely ranked in the top ten at the end of the regular season. It also was a contest where the best players on the court, Duke's Jon Scheyer and Butler's Gordon Hayward, weren't very good. Scheyer didn't even make an NBA squad (played in two games for the Clippers). Hayward got drafted 9th by the Jazz and averaged 16.6 a game, minutes that is (5 points). The 2011 title game wasn't much better. Butler's Shelvin Mack will probably go pro, but he's certainly not a guy NBA scouts are thinking "here comes the next LeBron James!' Even college superstar Kemba Walker, UConn's main-man, isn't that highly regarded. At 6'1," NBA scouts question his height (though he's a projected top 15 pick). These teams certainly fail in comparison to North Carolina's 1982 title squad (with NBA legends Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, and James Worthy), or the Heels 1993 title team (with NBA'er's Eric Montross and George Lynch, plus a great supporting cast), or the 2005 title team (with Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, Sean May, and company), or the 2009 squad (with Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and company). They pale in comparison to a lot of past NCAA champions, those not my favorite school! Trust me, I watch ESPN classic.

So just what is my point? Championship games like the last two don't happen cause of good competition; they happened cause of bad, parity-induced, attrition, the kind caused when all the best players (ages 19-22) aren't around. The pre-eminent programs are no longer stacked top-to-bottom; they are bottom heavy (full of freshmen and sophomores). Inexperienced, non-gelled, non-standout, erratic play ensues. Think of this: the top seniors this past season could've been Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, and Eric Gordon, or NBA starters. The senior class should've included such names as: Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Epke Udoh, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Hickson, Kosta Koufos, Donte Green, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Jonny Flynn, Austin Daye, James Johnson, Jeff Teague, DeJuan Blair, Nick Calathes, Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson, Larry Sanders, James Anderson, Craig Brackens, and Bill Walker, or guys on NBA rosters. And so it goes. The top juniors could've been Tyreke Evans, DeMar DeRozan, and Jrue Holiday. The junior class should've included guys like Byron Mullens, Greg Monroe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward, Ed Davis, Elliot Williams, Jordan Crawford, Devin Ebanks, and Willie Warren. The top sophomores could've included John Wall, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Daniel Orton, Lance Stephenson, and Tiny Gallon. That's a lot of, and not all of the, college-aged talent playing, or not playing, in the NBA. Each certainly could've bolstered their alma maters.

My overall point is: the NBA should adopt the same "three years removed from high school" rule the NFL has adopted. Somebody has to step in and tell these young athletes and their families/handlers, "hey, it's better for you, it's better for college basketball, it's better for the NBA, and thus it's better overall, if you just go to college (at least long enough to get a GED)." If I were to be that guy, I'd be a little more blunt. I'd say, "the meat market needs to end. You (every incoming college athlete) need to get smarter. You need to learn how to live on your own. You need to learn the ways of the world. You need to learn to play the game of basketball...the right way! You need to acquire the ability to think for yourself. If you go to college, and make it through, you will learn all of that (and so much more). You'll also have an amazing experience that is invaluable. You need to forget about the money. It is nothing, unless you know how to spend it correctly." I wonder what percentage would listen to me? Hopefully, the NBA mandates it, and takes the decision to go pro, out of the hands of those not ready to make said decision, 19-21 year olds kids. Then I'll again get to watch good NCAA title games!

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