BY CHRIS HAAS
The Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball team had a rough week. First, the Cats lost to a mediocre Arkansas team at home. Arkansas is fighting for an NCAA tournament berth and they pulled out a hard-fought win on the road. It happens, even in the sacred grounds of Rupp Arena. The majority of Big Blue Nation justified the loss (rightly so) but the sky above Lexington began to teeter on the heels of the 7th loss of the season.
Then came the loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, who are by no means mediocre. The Gamecocks hosted the Wildcats with a resume that includes a 10-17 record, a RPI in the 180’s, and a loss to USC Upstate. South Carolina is bad, and there are less polite adjectives that could be used to describe them. After the loss, the Lexington sky went from teetering to an all-out freefall.
The perceived “one and done” players have received much of the scrutiny this week. Critics have said:
“They play for the name on the back of the jersey and not the name on the front.”
“They attempt to stuff the stat sheet instead of playing team ball.”
“They care more about their NBA future then their time at U.K. “
“They try to protect their bodies instead drawing contact and diving on the floor.”
While there is some truth to each one of these statements, the young players are not the ones to blame. In 2006, NBA Commissioner David Stern enacted what is now known as the “one and done” rule. The rule said a player couldn’t enter the NBA Draft until they are 19 years old and at least one year removed from high school. The reasons for this are obvious: The NBA scouts get to see a one-year audition before drafting talent. This allows teams to make better decisions in the draft, which increases the talent pool in the NBA, which makes for a better game, which makes for larger revenues.
The NCAA on the other hand is ensured that the best young players will at least make a pit stop in the college game. This allows teams to recruit at a higher level, which increases the talent pool in the NCAA, which makes for a better game, which makes for larger revenues.
It was a win-win proposition for the NBA and the NCAA. However, there is a third party that wasn’t considered: the players themselves. There is a fallacy in the thought that an 18 year old can die for our country but cannot play basketball in the NBA.
The rule effectively forces all talented basketball players with professional aspirations to play at least one year in the NCAA. The fact that the NCAA is not a place of employment and these players will not be compensated for their services, other than an education they aren’t interested in, only adds to the absurdity. The only other alternative that is a somewhat viable option is to play for the NBA’s D League. However, since the NBA and NCAA have essentially partnered up on this deal, the NBA has done nothing to entice players to join the D league as an alternative.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gave his support for the NBA D-League as an alternative route for NBA prospects. He said this in an interview last week:
“I think what will end up happening — and this is my opinion, not that of the league — is if the colleges don’t change from the one-and-done, we’ll go after the one. The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.”
Notice Cuban added “this is my opinion, not that of the league.”
Kentucky freshmen Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and others have not been shy about their NBA aspirations. They want to play basketball professionally. They want to be paid millions of dollars to play the sport that they love on the highest level. That is their priority and their prerogative. The one and done rule has forced them into a position to pretend that they are “playing for the name on the front of the jersey.” They likely chose to attend the University of Kentucky because John Calipari puts players in the pros, not because Kentucky has an excellent agricultural program.
The players that John Calipari recruits are not your average NCAA athletes. They are elite prospects. Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, and Andrew Harrison would have gone in the first round of last year’s draft. They were not given the freedom to make that decision as adults, so they made the next best business decision they could and attended the University of Kentucky. 99% of college athletes do not turn pro. 99% percent of the NCAA athletes are living their dream and achieving their goals by playing at the highest level of competition in college sports. Kentucky deals with the 1% who are still climbing the ladder.
Given their lack of choice in the matter, is it surprising an elite prospect would be more focused on their own career aspirations? When the NBA is on your doorstep, is preserving your body by not diving on the floor truly a poor decision? Is that selfish? What do they owe to the team on the front of their jersey? The free algebra credits? These questions are based on the assumption that the freshmen actually are dogging it, which I’m not convinced is true in the first place.
The irony is the University of Kentucky’s Men’s Basketball team was once viewed as one of the largest beneficiaries to the “one and done” rule. The tables have turned in the last two years though. By forcing kids to play in the NCAA for one year, the NCAA has eliminated choice. Instead of wanting to play, they have to play. I don’t blame the Kentucky freshman for being selfish, I blame the NCAA and NBA for being selfish when they enacted the one and done rule in 2006. The NCAA and Kentucky would be better off if the players actually wanted to be there, even if those players aren’t as naturally gifted.