The University of Kentucky might have four freshmen selected in the National Basketball Association draft this June, after losing eight first-year-players to the NBA in the previous three seasons.
The Wildcats, who missed the national basketball tournament after being ranked as high as No. 3 with that crop of freshmen, are one of the surprises during a college basketball season that produced different top-ranked teams for five straight weeks and a No. 15 seed that made it to the regional semifinals for the first time.
College basketball is getting hurt by one-and-done players such as Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who were drafted first and second last June, according to coaches, agents and educators. It would be better for the game and universities if top players went directly to the NBA, they said.
“Everyone is making a ton of money, and they don’t want to discuss what it’s doing to the game itself,” said Keith Glass, an NBA player agent and former high school basketball coach. “I favor letting them come right out of high school if they are good enough, or once they sign up for class, they have to play in college for at least three years so they can mature and develop their game.”
Among the freshmen NBA prospects still playing as the National Collegiate Athletic Association round of 16 begins today include Ben McLemore of Kansas, Rasheed Sulaimon of Duke and Glenn Robinson III of Michigan. The event, which culminates in the championship game on April 8 in Atlanta, provided the NCAA with 81 percent of its $871.6 million revenue in the fiscal year ending 2012 through its television contracts with CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.
The NBA and its union agreed in 2005 to ban players from entering the draft until a year after their high school class graduates, so they typically take a college scholarship to hone their skills until the waiting period passes.
The players who do that distort the idea of going to school for an education, says Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, chairman of the NCAA Division 1 board. It also leaves college basketball fans disappointed in losing players after one year.
“It interrupts their educational process, and it’s not very satisfying as a fan of the team,” Hatch said in an interview.
Kentucky lost three freshmen starters to the NBA last year, and Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in another crop of freshman: Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein. Noel, who injured his knee in February, and the others are all projected as first-round picks, according to CBS Sports draft analyst Jeff Goodman. Meanwhile, the Wildcats got four recruits from ESPN’s top 10 list to commit for next season.
Neither Calipari nor athletic director Mitch Barnhart would agree to be interviewed.
One-and-done college players are hardly a new phenomenom. Syracuse University’s hall of fame coach Jim Boeheim, who is second in Division I career college wins, won one NCAA tournament championship, in 2003. The star of his team was freshman Carmelo Anthony, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in the championship game against Kansas. Two months later he was selected by the Denver Nuggets, the third pick in the NBA draft.
Boeheim says he doesn’t care whether the player is only going to be with his team for one year.
“You might get one or two of those guys and the rest are going to be three and four-year players,” Boeheim said in an interview. “You can’t recruit that way. You have to take the best players you can get.”
One upshot is that one-and-done players disproportionately affect the best teams, Boeheim said. For all its talent, Kentucky’s team hadn’t played together much this season, and it showed.
“It’s probably made it more equal for everybody,” Boeheim said. “The top teams will still be top teams, but they are a little more beatable.”
Not knowing who will stay in school leaves coaches hanging, and when players leave after one year it hurts college basketball, said former Duke center Jay Bilas, now an attorney and lead college basketball analyst at ESPN.
“If 40 players leave early, that’s eight All-America teams being lopped off the top echelon of college basketball,” Bilas said. “Well, that’s going to hurt any enterprise, even one as big as college basketball,” he said.
Aside from college, one option might be the NBA’s Development League, where players make $15,000 to $25,000 a season playing in cities like Erie, Pennsylvania; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Bakersfield, California. They don’t have to attend class or do homework and instead can spend 8-10 hours a day on basketball.
Some 30 percent of the players on current NBA rosters have played in the D-League and 40 percent of the 2012 draft class had played in it as of January, according to the NBA.
“College basketball is very competitive, but in the D-League you are playing against pro basketball players who have played in the NBA, are currently playing in the NBA, or have been drafted into the NBA and aren’t on a roster for whatever reason,” said Chris Alpert, the D-League’s vice president of basketball operations and player personnel. “It’s the fastest way to get to the NBA. We had 60 call-ups to the NBA in 2011.”
NBA agent Mark Bartelstein said college is important for young players, enabling them to develop emotionally and socially. Plus, they get better marketing from television exposure.
In the short-term, nothing is going to change, coaches and administrators say.
The NBA’s position is that it wants players to stay in school longer so they can develop their basketball skills and get life experience.
NBA players want the right to choose whether to attend college or play professionally immediately after high school.
Meantime, fans of college basketball have to adjust to roster turnover.
“One of the joys of college sports and being a fan is that you get to fall in love with the team as you watch a freshman class grow up,” Bilas said. ‘In the old days, where guys came in freshman and left four years later arm in arm, those days are over.’’