Well, it’s that time of year again. The college basketball season is officially over, and while Louisville’s campus continues to celebrate the school’s first men’s basketball national championship since 1986, fans of the team and of other programs around the country sit and wait with pits in their stomachs. Between now and April 16th, we’re all forced to watch as college basketball standouts around the country toy with our hearts as they decide whether they’ll stay in school and maintain their NCAA eligibility for next year or forgo the years remaining in their degree program (because, hey, that’s what they’re there for right?) and make the leap to the NBA.
Already, some of the top talent that emerged this year has crushed the hearts of their classmates and fans by choosing to enter the NBA Draft. Just look at some of the names on this list: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (a junior) and Cody Zeller (sophomore), Pitt’s Steven Adams (freshman), Louisville’s Russ Smith (junior), Kansas’s Ben McLemore (freshman), Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin (freshman), and Ohio St.’s Deshaun Thomas (junior), among many others.
What makes college basketball—or any college sport for that matter—so fascinating is the ever-changing rosters as freshman are recruited to replace the graduating seniors, and the occasional transfer to or from a school. That dynamic is what makes the job of being a college coach and so difficult, and why an extraordinary amount of credit has to be given to the Jim Boeheims, Mike Krzyzewskis, and Rick Pitinos of the world, for their ability to build powerhouses that consistently contend for national titles.
But part of that dynamic that I wish coaches, and fans, didn’t have to deal with is athletes making the early jump to the Association, which is only made excruciatingly more painful because of the NBA’s now decade-old requirement that a player complete at least one year at an institution of higher education prior to being eligible to enter the league’s draft. (Granted, if I had millions of dollars being waved in front of my nose, I’d likely make the jump too. But that’s beside the point.)
Because of this rule, college teams that land the top recruits in the nation are basically renting a player (or five if you’re John Calipari) for one year before they inevitably jump ship for the NBA.
Let me start by admitting that a lot of my frustration with the NBA’s rule, and players leaving early, has to do with my experience as a fan of the Syracuse Orange over the past two years.
After the 2012 season, the Orange, who were already losing two top-tier seniors in Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, also had to waive goodbye to two sophomores, sixth-man of the year Dion Waiters and (the grossly under-prepared) Fab Melo. While Waiters clearly would’ve been a major factor this year, its Fab Melo who could have made the biggest difference—the lack of a presence in the middle of the 2-3 zone hurt this team all season, and Melo could’ve filled that void while continuing to develop under Boeheim—tough maybe not academically. Instead, he opted to go to the NBA and has spent the better part of the last 12 months in the Developmental League.
And looking at this year’s team, after making their first Final Four run in ten years, breakout-star point guard Michael Carter-Williams—a sophomore—has already made the decision to leave school, and many analysts are predicting that junior forward C.J. Fair might not be too far behind.
Maybe this frustration goes back even further to 2003, when SU won the school’s only national basketball title, only to have the man who led that team—Carmelo Anthony—leave school after one year. It all worked out for him though, he got his banner, and his name on the campuses state-of-the-art athletic facility, and now has his number hanging in the Dome’s rafters. Thanks for all you did, ‘Melo, in that one season…
Did that come off bitter? I hope so.
Any fan of any college team should be bitter when their team is loaded, runs deep in the tournament, and then has everyone bail before they can even celebrate their success.
No one knows that feeling better than fans of any Calipari-led team. The man makes a living off of recruiting the top talent in the country, guys that are essentially goners before they even show up on campus. Just look at some of the names that went one-and-done for Coach Cal in the last three years: John Wall, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and, this year, Archie Goodwin. And, despite tearing the ACL in his left knee halfway through this season, many NBA draft experts are predicting that Nerlens Noel could be a top-five pick if he were to declare this year.
Just think, those names could’ve all shared a spot on the same roster for at least a year if they stayed in school for the duration of their degree programs. But hey, they cashed in, and we all had the pleasure of watching Kentucky go from NCAA champions to getting booted from the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris.
Imagine what Carmelo could have done if he played three more years with Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. Maybe the Orange would have more than one national title. Melo, maybe you could’ve gotten two or three buildings with your name. How about this: Drop Carrier and make it the Carmelo Dome? I guess we’ll never know.
For these elite teams, a star athlete leaving early usually only stings for a short period of time though thanks to their strong recruiting pipelines. But the fact is, it does sting. I feel like I’m being betrayed. The kid I was just rooting for, who played because he loved the game, just left all that innocence behind to go make big bucks. It leaves a pit in my stomach. I feel like I’m being stabbed in the back. They’re a turncoat.
Am I overreacting? Maybe.
Am I the one being greedy? Possibly.
But why not stay those extra few years? Work on perfecting your game at this level, and show me that you’re willing to finish something you started—that degree. Hell, just stay and enjoy college life. Whatever I have to say, I’ll say it if you just stick around for your four years of eligibility so I can feel fulfilled.
Like I started out saying, though, a lot of this could have been avoided if the NBA stuck with their old rule, allowing high school seniors to be drafted. It’s not like they’re protecting someone’s physical well-being like the NFL did with their draft-eligibility requirements. If a kid wants to and has the ability to play in the NBA at that age, let them. Don’t make them tease college fans for a year and then rip their hearts out when they bounce off campus.