I started writing about college basketball prior to the 2006-07 season, which was the first year of the NBA’s one-and-done rule. I don’t think the NBA actually calls it that, but the rule prevented basketball players from jumping straight from high school to the pros. The rule has been one of the more controversial moves in recent basketball history. I think anyone who thinks it hasn’t been good for college basketball is wrong. While the best players are only around for one year, that is better than none. Imagine the prestige that LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Korleone Young would have brought to the NCAA. Then consider what players like Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, and Jereme Richmond have given college hoops.
The arguments against the rule come from a variety of angles. Most college coaches hate it because it ruins their personnel planning. At the same time, most college coaches are control freaks who have the ability to go ballistic if a referee makes a call against their team. Some people believe that the college experience is important for basketball players. Would Kobe and LeBron been better basketball players if they had spent a year in college? This seems doubtful to me. It does help that the NCAA has relaxed their rules for coaching during the summer so that basketball players can get some instruction, but the NBA is a cauldron for basketball players. The pro league has the best coaches who can spend all day with their players.
ESPN subsidiary Grantland has had two articles over the past year decrying the state of college basketball with the one-and-done rule and I’d like to belatedly respond to both. The first was written by Chuck Klosterman on the eve of the Final Four. The second, more egregious to my mind, was written by Steve Kerr in May. Both leaned heavily on the problems of Kentucky and John Calipari winning with a very young roster. I am a fan of both people: I have read and enjoyed all of Klosterman’s books and think that Kerr is one of the better analysts on TV (which is made easier by the fact that he is generally partnered with Marv Albert, who is the greatest sports announcer ever.)
Klosterman’s money quote is “Calipari has professionalized college sports, which is great for him and good for his recruits. It's just discomforting for anyone who likes NCAA basketball, assuming they're drawn to the same game that lives within their memory.” I don’t think Calipari has professionalized college sports. Someone has always been making money from college sports, but he has been the greatest recruiter in college sports history. How he does it is between him, his players, and Kentucky’s amazing compliance staff that gets all but Enes Kanter available to play. What the Wildcats accomplished last year was incredible. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were defense-first players and they rubbed off on the rest of the team. Give credit to Calipari for that too. He takes these all-star teams and gets them to play together. [A side note to Klosterman: I’ve heard you reference advanced stats twice or three times as if the stats were taking some of the fun away from the game. That’s like arguing the use of modern medicine has taken away from doctoring. Advanced stats do a better job of relating what has happened, but are not much better than anything else at predicting the future. Nate Silver, aside.] All in all, I understand why Klosterman would dislike the change in college basketball, but it hasn’t really been different since the Fab Five. Was that grouping wrong as well?
Kerr’s article was so bad that I still remember getting mad while reading it seven months ago. He was writing in defense of a rule that would keep basketball players from the NBA until they were 20 years old. The current rule is 19. Kerr cherry picked stats and tried to show how more years in college would help NBA general managers make wiser decisions. It is not as if NBA teams didn’t make terrible draft decision when players stayed in college for four years. The worst was his comparison of the stats of Bird, Magic, and Jordan as rookies to Garnett, Kobe, Dwight Howard, and LeBron. If you compare the stats of any 23-year-old to any 19-year-old, they are going to favor the older player. That makes his point, but my point is: why should young players have to sacrifice one to three years of earning potential in college where they can’t make a dime (and if they do and are caught, they get suspended – it’s ridiculous). Has spending one year in college helped Carmelo, Durant, or Derrick Rose win a championship? Kerr blamed agents for pushing the straight from high school agenda, but why would basketball players want to spend a year in college? What exactly does it do for them?
As a college basketball writer, I am glad (selfishly) that these super talented players have had to spend a year in college. I don’t think it helps them in any way and it actually hurts them significantly in a financial sense (unless they are able to make money under the table, which wouldn’t surprise or bother me in the least). I wouldn’t mind the establishment of a rule like baseball: players can go straight to the pros or they have to spend two or three years in school. I am a little bit surprised that more players haven’t followed Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler’s lead by going abroad for a year. Eventually, I hope college basketball shares the wealth with the people who are actually doing the entertaining. That would seem like the fairest thing to do.