The High School to College Jump Debate Verdict

March 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

I get teased for this a lot, but I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Michigan State head basketball coach institution Tom Izzo. He is a rare coach in college basketball, having taken six of his past 12 teams to the Final Four. He is also known as a coach who cares a great deal about graduating players. He is disciplined and tough, he doesn’t let players get away with stuff they should not. More than anything, he is fair. His players know his rules and standards, and they know the consequences of not living up to them (see Izzo dismissing two starts from this year’s team mid-season).

So when Tom Izzo stands up and says something is a good idea, it’s worth a listen. However, I had reservations about the idea of forcing high school kids to choose the NBA or three years of college at such a young age. It is a decision that has lasting impact and millions of dollars on the line… but it is made by a 17 or 18-year-old kid. Pressure anyone?

It is true that some of those kids do make good decisions. But, some don’t.

I understand the point Babe Ruthless is making about some of the most talented players in basketball being straight out of high school. But, just because a player is talented does not mean a player is great. There is a distinction. Many of the talented high school players the Babe lists off have taken years to evolve in the game because at the professional level a player needs beyond raw talent. They also, for example, must fully understand how to play effective basketball. They must be smart, and they must be good teammates to consistently win championships.

My point? For every Kobe Bryant there are 10 players like Darius Miles. Is that really good for the league? In reality, the NBA had to invent an entire developmental league – and even TITLE it as such – simply because the caliber of player that was entering the league was not ready to play basketball on a professional level. That proves there are a whole lot more players like Miles that need more seasoning to have a chance to cut it playing professional basketball.

The proposal on the table also isn’t quite as black and white and Babe Ruthless paints it. Players may choose when they are being recruited if they wish to enter the college ranks or attempt to make it in the NBA. But, if they choose college it is a three-year commitment. To me, this is not only prudent, but eminently reasonable.

Bleacher Fan wins this debate because he is sadly correct that supporting casts provide as much support as a 25-year-old bra. The overall quality of the talent in the NBA is down. Part of that is because of the expansion of the league over time diluting the talent pool. But a counteraction to that dilemma is to improve the quality of the players in the league. The NBA Development League has not, to this point, improved the overall quality of the NBA product. The reality is that college basketball is a better proving ground for great basketball talent, and the NBA is smart to back any proposal that feeds the league better players.

Given this construct, it is important to note that an obvious benefit is an overall improvement to the college game. These benefits are not the focus of this debate, as Bleacher Fan rightly states, but they are impossible to ignore.

Many of the college basketball teams that many of us have taken notice of at this stage of the season are playing well, in part, because their rosters are comprised of seniors. You bracketologists know that St. John’s, Purdue, Wisconsin, San Diego State, and many other schools have risen to the top of our minds because they have experienced players. A rule like the one Izzo is backing would promote the idea that more programs would have upperclassman, raising the overall quality of the college game AND improving the caliber of player in the professional game.

The proposal does not limit a player’s ability to earn money, as Babe Ruthless intimates. It gives them freedom – options – to choose which path they want. That doesn’t mean that pressure is non-existent. If a high school player wants to play professional ball, then pressure is part of the overall package – and if they are going to cut it, they can’t shy away.

Bottom line, Bleacher Fan has convinced me that this proposal is good for college basketball, and good for professional basketball – not to mention the players themselves. It’s a win-win.

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The High School to College Jump Debate

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

The rule proposal is simple enough to understand. College basketball recruits would either have to commit to playing three seasons of college basketball, or they could just immediately to the NBA.

On the surface, this rule seems like a no brainer. Coaches like the idea, players seem to be okay with it, and legendary coach Tom Izzo is the one pushing this potential rule change up through the ranks. Done deal, right? Not so fast.

What kind of fair rule states a player – who has the physical ability to player professional basketball – cannot earn a living that way? A similar rule like this exists for college football and the NFL. But football and basketball are very different games. The counter argument is legit. Let’s find out exactly HOW legit.

Should college basketball recruits be forced to choose between playing three years of college ball or going straight to the professional ranks?

Babe Ruthless will argue the choice should be up to the player whenever they want to turn professional while Bleacher Fan believes the rules makes sense for all parties involved.

I get to judge. While I am a Tom Izzo fanboy, he is not a perfect human being, and this proposal has some serious questions marks in it. Convince me – is this potential rule fair?

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The High School to College Jump Debate… Righting the Ship

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The NBA may be peaking in terms of popularity right now, but make no mistakes – it is an organization in very serious trouble.

The league has been hijacked by players, it is hemorrhaging money, and now the limited population of truly talented athletes in the league have all decided to migrate east, creating what is sure to be an extremely top-heavy NBA.

The league is enjoying a spike in popularity, but how long can that popularity be sustained? There are only so many superstars that are worth the media attention lavished on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade during this past off-season. Now that Carmelo Anthony has signed on with the Knicks, the only thing left for the talking heads in the sports world to talk about is, “Where will Chris Paul sign?

Things just aren’t like they used to be.

Comparisons to the “good ol’ days” often point to the fact that the league’s biggest stars from back in the day would have never teamed up to play on the same team. The notion that Magic would have taken his talents to Boston to team up with Byrd, or that Jordan would ever put on a Knicks uniform to share the same court with Ewing is just absurd. These were hyper-competitive athletes who wanted to share none of the glory.

There has clearly been a change in mentality between the stars of yesterday, and those of today. It has completely altered the climate of professional basketball.

That change has been the talent level of the B and C class talent.

Superstar talent may be comparable to the golden days, but supporting casts in the NBA are a shell of what they once were.

NBA Lite

Thanks to the miracle of NBA expansion, the league has officially reached its saturation point. The league has outgrown the boundaries that would have allowed it to remain competitive, and the limited pool of real NBA-worthy talent is not enough to stock the ocean that is the current NBA.

Talent is watered down to such a point now that the current NBA draft format (which is only two rounds to begin with) is completely irrelevant. With the exception of a small handful of lottery players, most of the draft class from each new season spends the first two to three years of their professional careers either in the D-league, or playing foreign ball. It is not until after some REAL development has taken place that a player (no matter how promising they might be) will actually get an opportunity to test their mettle in the big leagues.

Where in previous years a team might have three or four role players with genuine talent, the teams of today are lucky if they have one guy who can truly hold his own in helping to hoist the elite up.

So who can blame the athletes with REAL talent from wanting to team up?

Guys like LeBron James are no longer expected just to be great players, they are expected to act as mentors and trainers who must take on the responsibility of developing those players around them. They cannot focus solely on their game, because they have to make everyone else better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets are the perfect example of this fact. Before their superstar saviors came to town, they were the bottom-feeders of the league. While those superstar saviors were in town, they realized elevated levels of success, but nothing truly satisfying. Now that those superstar saviors are gone, they have sunk back into the depths of irrelevance.

They enjoyed a boost in winning percentages because they had a difference-maker on the court, but that boost was short-lived because those difference-makers didn’t want to have to do everything. While they want to be the best guy on the court, they don’t want to be the ONLY guy on the court. So they have sacrificed their shot at EXCLUSIVE glory so they can at least have a shot at glory.

Fixing the problem

The good news for NBA fans is that the upcoming CBA expiration provides the perfect opportunity to fix the league’s problems. Who would have thought that inspiration for that fix would come from the same organization blamed for the overhyped condition of sports in America today – ESPN?

Last weekend, analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis, following one of their broadcasts, discussed a recommendation that was so well received that Michigan State’s head coach, Tom Izzo, has decided to propose it to the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The recommendation was that the NBA should implement an ultimatum of sorts to prospective NBA draft entrants. For those who feel they are truly ready to make the immediate leap from high school into the pros, they deserve that opportunity. The one-year waiting period will be waived, and they can follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and several others who have gone on to superstardom.

For those who are not ready, though, they will have to commit to a THREE-year (as opposed to one) stint in college.

This is actually a brilliant proposal that would boost the level of play, not only for the NBA, but also for college basketball (although the benefits for the NCAA are irrelevant to the topic at hand today).

For starters, this would actually not be an unprecedented policy. In fact, it is exactly the same policy held by the MLB. Although the NFL does not offer an immediate entry into their ranks, they still require a three-year wait.

The greatest benefit that the NBA would realize is that it would no longer have to assume the responsibility of developing athletes who are SUPPOSED to be NBA-caliber talent. As evidenced by the current state of talent in the league, it is obvious that the league stinks at developing talent anyway. Why not let players grow-up in college, at someone else’s expense, so that when they DO join the professional ranks they do so as matured athletes who are ready to hit the ground running.

This elevation in entry-level talent coming into the league would help boost the level of competition across the board. Teams would be able to populate their rosters with a better class of athlete, and the support-starved stars of the game today will feel less pressure to take on the role of team savior.

The end result is that all of the teams in the league would get better. The depth of talent from the five starters to the pine-riders and the D-leaguers would make the game more competitive, and stars of the league might be more compelled to resume the competitive nature of their predecessors, staying put and striving for individual glory, rather than a shared piece of the ultimate prize.

This proposal, which is now being championed by one of the most respected coaches in basketball today, is one that will benefit the entire game of basketball. It will make the players better, and it will make the league better.

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The High School to College Jump Debate… Getting Schooled, NBA Style

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kevin Garnett.

Each one of those names represents a supremely talented player that comprises the modern face of the NBA. These men define the very best in terms of talent the NBA has to offer. Each one of them has been named to the All-NBA team. Each one of them is a former NBA All-Star. Each one of them is a former first round draft pick. These are all extraordinary accomplishments from extraordinarily talented players, but the most striking of the commonalities shared by these players is the fact that each one of them was drafted right out of high school.

That’s right, folks. These players learned to dominate the league without having to go to college. While it may not be politically correct to romanticize the fact these guys went on to experience great success without the benefit of a college education or the experience of NCAA basketball, that is exactly what happened. Though it may be true that not every player who declares for the draft right out of high school experiences this type of success, these men prove it is indeed possible. When the ludicrous talk of making incoming players wait three years after their high school graduation before they can become eligible for the NBA comes up, I dismiss it as a flawed and outdated notion.

This proposal is as ill fit for the NBA as James Franco was for Oscar hosting. (Editor’s Note: Nice.)

This rule may work for other leagues, but it would be ill fit for the NBA. No one in his or her right mind would expect an 18-year old to be ready for the NFL. The game just moves at too fast a pace, and the body of an 18-year old simply isn’t developed enough to take the grueling punishment of an NFL season. Comparisons may be made to MLB, seeing as how prospects are signed right out of high school, but that is a tad misleading. While clubs frequently sign young players fresh out of high school, they are given ample opportunity to develop the required skills for the majors in the league’s vast farm system. It may take a player years, or even a decade, to mature into a true big leaguer.

In either scenario, the maturation of the player is key to their success, and the NBA is no different. HOWEVER… I argue that placing an arbitrary timetable on that development process does nothing to improve the game. No two players develop the same and therefore they do not uniformly fit a one-size fits all approach to development. Some players are simply ready right out of high school and others aren’t. I don’t suggest that every player be drafted right out of high school, JUST the ones that are ready for it.

Forcing a pro-ready talent like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett to waste three years playing college ball is completely unnecessary. Those are 3 years that a pro-ready player is risking their health and in turn their livelihood playing out an NCAA sentence to appease a misgiven notion that rushing a player into the pros hurts both the player and the league. The truth is, it doesn’t. Much like the popular phrase “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Players out of high school shouldn’t be drafted to the NBA, pro-ready players should be drafted out of high school to the NBA.

You might be asking yourself, “How does one determine the difference between a pro-ready high school grad and a kid making a rash decision?” That’s an issue between the player and the teams willing to draft them. If a player thinks they are ready, and a professional team wants to take a chance on them, more power to both. The NBA doesn’t owe NCAA basketball anything. It is a ludicrous infringement of the free market that the desires of the colleges to hang on to the best players (for the sake of their school’s economic success) should supersede the right of the player to sign with a professional team and actually get compensated for playing. College programs would literally be steamrolling over the rights of both the players and the NBA franchise that wishes to sign them.

There are lots of great college stars who are huge NBA busts. There time playing NCAA basketball didn’t help them better establish their pro-level game, so why reinforce the myth that it does?

Professional athletes have a very limited and uncertain window to make money. They are always just one injury from being out of the league for good. Forcing a player to forgo three years of the prime money making years is simply idiotic. We can pretend the lessons of playing college ball and attending class are priceless, but are they really?

Put yourself in these players’ shoes, or rather the shoes of their family. If you had a son who was a senior in high school who was offered the 4.2M that comes with being drafted with the number one overall pick, or taking a three year scholarship to Duke, which would you encourage them to take? Invariably I would tell him to take the NBA deal.

With that NBA deal comes the type of cash that could pay for his tuition, his children’s tuition, and his grandchildren’s tuition many times over. With the college deal comes three years laden with risk to the players health and draft status. Those are risks not worth taking.

Normally I’m an ardent proponent of education, but here it just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can say without college the player won’t know how to manage that money, and if they get hurt in the pros they have nothing to fall back on, but that is just a cop out. The managing of an individual’s personal finances is not a matter of public concern. If an NBA player loses all their money Nicolas Cage style, Boo-freakin-Hoo! The lack of a college education is not to blame. I’ve had eight years of graduate and undergraduate collegiate studies and not once did I have a class on how to make a personal budget, balance my checkbook, or make wise personal finance decisions, so let’s stop kidding ourselves that college is the cure all for wise resource management.

There have been some 42 NBA players drafted right after high school. Of those 42 they have accounted for three number one overall selections, two rookie of the year awards, and four league MVPs. They prove college is not necessary for NBA success. While I don’t think every player should skip college ball, colleges standing in the way of the future of the players that are pro-ready is a travesty. We wouldn’t tell a singer, chef, or any other talent-based profession they had to wait to enter their respective field for the good of colleges, so why should basketball be any different?

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