In the second edition of One-on-One, a Suns.com Newsroom debate, hoops analysts Dan Hilton and Brad G. Faye go head-to-head on whether high school stars should have to go to college for a year before turning pro. Is the extra year helping the NBA or is it unfair? Read their takes and then send your thoughts on the topic so you can have them read on Suns.com.|
The season before, the NBA instituted a rule that said players could only enter the draft after their high school class had been graduated for a year – as long as they were 19 years old at the end of the calendar year of the draft.
The first player to be drafted out of high school directly into professional basketball (in this case, the ABA) was Reggie Harding in 1962. It appears that he did not even play for the team that drafted him and he re-entered the draft in 1963. Moses Malone was the first successful player drafted out of high school. He was drafted into the ABA in 1974 but did not make his ABA debut until 1976.
Shawn Kemp could be considered as a player drafted out of high school, since he never played college basketball, but we will discuss this a little later. It really wasn’t until 1995 that high school players started entering the draft directly after graduation. Kevin Garnett started the trend that year and it continued each year until the NBA and its players union agreed to ban the practice.
Why was it such a big deal to the NBA that they make high school players wait at least a year before they enter the NBA? I think it had a lot to do with the number of players who were entering the draft. Between 1995 through 2000, 12 high school players were drafted. Between 2001 through 2005, 27 players high school players were drafted.
At the beginning of this trend, only players who were exceptional and were nearly guaranteed to be successful in the NBA entered the draft: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady are the most prominent names. After a few years, more high school players decided to enter the draft even though they could have used the experience gained in college: Travis Outlaw, James Lang, Sebastian Telfair, Dorell Wright and Martell Webster are just a few of the names you would probably recognize. There were also a few players that still had what it took to play at a professional level right after high school – Amaré Stoudemire, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Monta Ellis – but they were few and far between.
There are three reasons why the age limit in the draft works:
1. It gives kids one more year to develop both physically and mentally for the hardships of being a pro athlete.
2. It allows teams to look at potential draft picks for one more year against better talent.
3. It keeps teams more financially viable and allows them to put a better product on the court.
Regarding point number one, you could easily point to LeBron James, Amaré Stoudemire and Shawn Kemp as examples of players who came into the league and had what it took to make it in the NBA immediately. Because of those examples, some people have asked why the change to the age limit is necessary. They point to tennis players, gymnasts and ice skaters as examples of professional athletes who turn pro when they are as young as 12 years-old. I think the main difference is those athletes are depending on their own talent and aren’t banging bodies against adults who are much older and developed than they are. Playing a sport where you are just looking at your opponent is much different than one where you have to physically match up against your opponent and try to score or defend. Giving the high school kids just one more year to continue to grow and mature makes a lot of difference.
Points number two and three go hand in hand. By allowing NBA executives one more year to watch how high school players develop during a year in college or overseas, they are able to make better decisions regarding what type of player they are drafting. Since first-round players are given a guaranteed three-year contract, allowing executives to see the players against better competition allows them to make better choices regarding their draft selections. This should translate into fewer teams that have dead-weight contracts with players who can’t perform, have only looked great playing against high school competition and who don’t have the work ethic or talent to play at NBA level.
In conclusion, requiring players to grow and develop in college the year after they graduate high school not only helps them to grow and develop both physically and mentally, but it also helps NBA teams evaluate the players for another year and will allow them to put a better product on the court for fans paying to watch them.
College is not an obligation, it is a privilege, and I think imposing this rule wastes scholarships on players who go the route of “one-and-done” as opposed to a guy who, while not as talented, actually wants to benefit from receiving an education while also playing basketball.
While I hate making generalizations, I think it’s safe to say players who enter college with the attitude of bolting after one year aren’t putting a lot of effort into their studies.
Maybe there is a wide-eyed NBA hopeful out there who will one day enter college with this “one-and-done” intention but find a new passion in the form of American History or Criminal Law. Maybe this individual will make the decision to stick with this newfound interest and use his acquired knowledge for the good of mankind, forgetting all about his desire to go pro in the process.
Who knows, maybe some film company will even make a movie about this and give it a cool title like, “From the Court to the Courtroom: The Victor Barrett Story.” But until all this happens, I’m sticking with the belief that the “one-and-done” athletes I’m talking about aren’t taking the opportunity of a free education as seriously as they should, and spend more time picking out their outfits for draft night than they do in picking a major.
So while the rule may help the NCAA in terms of ticket sales and star power, it fails to help them in the area which should be most important – delivering an education. The number one priority of a university should be to enlighten students while preparing them for the working world.
It shouldn’t be selling out arenas or finding a way to eliminate Duke in the NCAA Tournament. But while there’s at least an argument in how this rule benefits NCAA teams (despite limited time there, Michael Beasley worked wonders for Kansas State), I don’t see how it helps the NBA as far as the big picture goes.
If NBA teams want to pass up on a prospect with experience playing against college competition on a big stage for a young high school kid with tremendous upside, that’s their risk to take.
And while I’m sure teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic have no regrets rolling the dice on phenoms like Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard, I understand the fairy tale ending doesn’t take place as often as franchises would like. But that’s why teams hire scouts to separate the All-Stars from the busts and that’s why scouts are such an integral part of an organization’s success.
If anything, now would be the best possible time for this rule not to be in effect. The NBA Development League is the perfect place for guys who aren’t NBA ready to fully refine their skills and learn the ins and outs of life as a professional athlete.
Major League Baseball teams draft a number of talented prospects out of high school and use its minor league system to help them develop. Why not let NBA teams take a risk on a guy they feel could potentially be a superstar, claim his rights and then keep him in the NBADL until he proves them right?
I understand that the NBA has the best interest of these athletes at heart and want to make sure they’re fully prepared to deal with playing among the world’s most talented athletes. But to me, part of being an American is having the right to apply for any job you like with or without meeting the standard requirements in terms of education. Whether or not that company wants to hire you despite meeting those requirements is their decision, but if you’re the best at what you do, why shouldn’t you be the top candidate for the position?
If a team wants to roll the dice on a guy they feel could be the next LeBron James or Amaré Stoudemire, they have that right, especially if they’re the ones fortunate enough to have landed the number one pick in the draft. I fail to see a reason they should have to settle on a different player just because he doesn’t meet a “one-and-done” requirement.