The debate has heated up in recent years about the deterioration of the collegiate basketball game and transition into the the Association. The NCAA has been trying to figure out what the key is in retaining “student athletes” and at the same time permitting eligible young men to enter into the next phase of their careers. The consensus has been that the young crop of talent that has entered the NBA continues to be subpar and dilutes the talent level. The young collegiate elite “one and dones’” are being drafted by the bottom feeders in the league, a large disparity is created between the elite and the lottery teams.
The question remains--how to fix this issue? How can we restore the competition expectation level to resemble that of the eighties and nineties? In order to come to grips with a solution we must analyze the success of past underage stars and what other sports have instituted in their leagues to produce the highest level of performance in their perspective leagues.
In the image shown below, I break down every player who has been drafted straight from high school and I arrange them into 5 categories; scrubs, marginal success, role players, bonafide starters, and stars. Scrubs are players who may have made one or two appearances in their rookie season, only to be denounced to the D-league, and out of the league within two years. Scrubs are easy to point out primarily because their names are unrecognizable. Marginal successful players are athletes who are a little more well known, who have had brief stretches of success in the NBA, and have managed to hang around on the end of benches and continue to pick up NBA contracts. Role players are self-explanatory, players who have carved out a niche in the league and managed to find success and continuous roles for multiple ball clubs. The majority of the high schoolers who I have deemed “Role players” have had the luxury for playing on several different teams. The last category are stars, and stars are unanimous, clear cut, nationally televised, high rating, marquee players.
In my expert opinion, nearly half of the players drafted directly from 12th grade have gone on to be role players in the league. What this proves is that in the past, kids making the jump straight to the pro’s have primarily found success,. Yes, they may not have been prepared physically for the 82 game schedule, or the rigors of competing against grown men but they have managed to remain in the league and become key contributors, trade assets, and 6th men off the bench. Out of the 39 high schoolers on this list, only 6 ended up being pure scrubs. This list gives weight to the notion that Adam Silver should give serious thought to enabling the high school floodgates once again.
On the contrary we can only imagine the chaos in terms of recruiting that would result if the majority of these freshmen elected to stay in school for multiple years. Not only would the recruiting classes be spread out amongst all power conferences and schools, but you would see more transfers as well.
Below is a chart of 3 of the most highly touted and infamous programs in college basketball right now. The chart shows what their perspective rosters would have looked like had my proposed rule been instituted (see below). As you can see, the teams are not only stacked but many of the elite freshman would either be playing reserve minutes or requesting to transfer to other schools out of lack of playing time and star potential. This would allow greater disparity in college basketball and more programs having the opportunity to strengthen their recruiting classes.
There are a few solutions that could impact the Association in a positive way. One solution would be to institute and mimic MLB’s “farm league” system. The NBA has done a marvelous job in developing the “development league”. A handful of teams give considerable acknowledgment to their D-league affiliate and truly use it to develop younger players who aren’t quite ready. But let’s say hypothetically that the NBA allowed teams to draft high school players and immediately assign them to their perspective D-league affiliate. Allowing 17 and 18 year old adolescents to play their first few seasons in the NBA’s version of AAA ball, will allow physical, mental, and social maturity. They will play on teams’ that already have veterans and will become accustomed to the NBA game rather quickly. The high profile stars will still receive large signing bonuses similar to baseball, and the players development will determine the length of time spent in the D-league.
In addition to instituting a more formal farm system in basketball, I believe it would be useful for all parties to mandate a 3 year minimum, or “college till 21” rule. In other words, if a player elects to skip college and go to the league straight out of high school they are permitted to do so--however if a player decides to attend a college, university, or prep school they must stay in school for a minimum of 3 years or until they turn 21 whichever comes first. This allows collegiate coaches to not be disabled in the recruiting process by one and done’s. This forces players to truly develop in all aspects as a man, entering the league at age 21 as not only a more complete player but a complete man. Whether it is realistic to believe Adam Silver would institute a rule similar to my proposition remains to be seen. When it comes to million, and even billion dollar decisions, the league commissioner has often sided with the owners who may not like the idea of sending their first overall pick to the development league. Although both sides would need to meet in the middle, this could potentially resolve the product deficiency issue and restore college basketball's allure.
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