Being a blog centered around a certain underperforming professional basketball team, it should come as no surprise that I have some very specific opinions on various topics surrounding the sport as a whole. To divulge a bit more of my own proclivities, I am also an unabashed University of Kentucky basketball fan. Being born in Kentucky and growing up in a UK household, basketball is almost a religion.
The intersection of my passions for NBA and UK has left me with a significant amount of exposure on the topic of “one and done” NCAA players. Tonight is the National Championship game and watching the coverage as UK has continued its march has never lacked in discussion of the one and done model.
This coverage has been overwhelmingly negative. The vast majority of which comes from a contingent of media personalities arguing that the one and done system is perverting the collegiate student athlete model that has been in place for decades.
That topic in and of itself is rife with bullshit which the Ed Obannon case should rupture the foundations of in short order later this year. However, for the purpose of this post I will leave the concept of the student athlete alone and focus solely on the perceived demerits of the one and done system. Most often they present themselves in the following manner:
- Players play for the chance at money and not for the jersey they wear
- Scholarships are being taken away from players who otherwise would have had the opportunity
- Players are one year professional rentals who do not value academics
I’ll tackle these one at a time:
Players play for the chance at money and not for the jersey they wear
I have a long list of current active NBA players who have played one or two years maximum at UK over the last five years since Calipari’s arrival:
- John Wall
- Demarcus Cousins
- Eric Bledsoe
- Patrick Patterson (my hero)
- Daniel Orton
- Brandon Knight
- Josh Harrelson
- Anthony Davis
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrest
- Terrance Jones
- Doron Lamb
- Darius Miller
- Nerlens Noel
- Archie Goodwin
I follow the majority of these guys on twitter. Over the last two weeks all of them have been vocal about the University of Kentucky and their pride with what this team has accomplished. If you tune in tonight, I would expect you see at least half of this list in attendance. I am unclear on the suggestion, based on such evidence, that the players do not bond with the State and the University they called home for such a brief period in your life.
Imagine when you are 18/19 years old, and if you found a place where you were universally accepted and revered. How powerful an impression would that make on you? I would bet, and for some would not have to bet as they have directly said so, that this would be a life changing experience. A place between adulthood and childhood, between the struggle of adolescence and the cold professionalism of the NBA adult. This is how they see their collegiate experience, not through the lens of a 10 month calendar.
Scholarships taken from more deserving candidates
This is where I start to get a little concerned with how people define deserving. It requires a bit of background, but lets dive in:
- The one year rule is an NBA rule. This is not the kids, nor the universities doing this. So these kids, as of now (and likely a long time from now) will be barred from seeking payment for their services they are capable of performing until they meet the age requirements of the NBA.
- If you consider the list from the point above, over half of those listed came from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is common for a lot of basketball players as basketball is one of the popular escapes for inner city children.
- The intent of college is to train people for professional careers
Given that set of facts, explain to me how it is that these kids do not “deserve” the scholarships they are given? Colleges teach these kids the skills they need to succeed in their choice of career. Because their choice of career is basketball instead of computer science, and because they are exceptionally talented, they suddenly do not deserve to be lifted from the abject poverty the majority of them live in? They do not deserve a chance to experience a life that most middle/upper class kids expect to be handed to them? What is the logic? Where does this come from?
Above all other kids, I would suggest these are exactly the kids who deserve scholarships. Those that are our most promising candidates in the fields they chose and those that have the least ability to succeed in them without the help of others. For every Anthony Davis there is another Lenny Cooke who could have used such an opportunity.
Players are one year professional rentals who do not value academics
This is the one I find the most infuriating. To reiterate from above, the point of college is to train you for a career. These kids are simply able to move on to their career choices earlier than most due to talent others do not possess. The argument is that you would not fault Mark Zuckerburg for dropping out of Harvard to blow up with Facebook. You would also not prevent him from attending Harvard entirely simply because he showed the aptitude for success prior to attending college.
But lets back the fucking train up a bit because to suggest the one year rental is perverting academic causes would suggest that prior to the one and done era (before 2005) all students were graduating at significantly higher rates. The funny thing is, this is an easy one to track. As of 2003 less than 1/3 of elite Mens Basketball schools (defined as the top 16 finishers in the NCAA tournament) graduated 2/3 or more of their players. Compare this to the latest numbers from 2014 where graduation rates of more than 2/3 were reported by 50% of comparable schools. So to be clear, since the one and done era began in 2005 graduation rates have been improving across elite Mens Basketball programs.
To add to this anecdotally, the University of Kentucky enjoys the return of a large number of the aforementioned former players each summer to complete additional coursework. As part of Calipari’s promise to parents during the recruiting process, he touts this to show his continued commitment to the education of players. The idea that a person moving on to a professional career in the NBA has somehow forfeited their opportunity at an college education later in life is also false.
To wrap this all up, as I examine the coverage more and more, the only explanation I have for the stances that are so firmly entrenched in today’s media landscape is that these media members are either ignorant or bigots. Notwithstanding the anti-manifesto Vox launch piece yesterday, which might explain Michael Wilbon’s opinions, I am left to assume there is some latent classism or racism involved here.
It strikes me as peculiar that virtually all one and done players are black, the majority of which come from underprivileged households, while the vast majority of dissenters are middle-aged, middle-class white people educated from the very same universities whose vested interest they side with. I’m not implying it is overt or intentional, but there is something going on in the language they use that suggests they are not looking at the facts from a rational perspective and are emotionally responding in a way that seems unfortunately biased.
So let’s stop vilifying the kids, coaches and the programs that are working within the rules. There is no reasonable explanation for supporting such a stance. And until the NBA decides to institute proper development leagues and/or rescind the age restriction, let’s all just enjoy the show and shut the fuck up already.