College Basketball in America: A flawed system – Henry Twitchell
College Basketball in America: A flawed system
Unlike in Europe where young people aspiring to become professional athletes join clubs at a very young age where they will be homegrown, America deeply links every major league sports to education. College is a must, a step in one’s journey to become a pro; College is where all the best players can be found, seen competing against each other and scouted by pro teams. Our focus will be on College basketball but the same system also applies for Football (American) and Baseball. Even before college, young basketball players play for their High School team; that is already something that is worth being noticed, sport in school is much more advanced in the United States than in France for example. In France, young players play for a team, a club, High School teams are either non-existent or not serious – at least, nothing that will lead you to play at a good level. In America, the best High School prospects are ranked on a national scale from five stars to one star; five star recruits receive hundreds of scholarship offers from all the best universities in the country to come play for their college team.
Those young athletes will be granted a free education on the most outstanding campuses one could find on earth to come… play Basketball? That is the paradox in this whole thing… it takes four years to graduate in the United States.
Those young men want to make it to the NBA (National Basketball Association), they don’t want a college diploma. If the opportunity is here to make it to the pros, they will jump on it right away! If they make it to the NBA, not only would they be playing basketball at the highest level but they would be making millions doing it. Let’s not forget that it is almost impossible to travel around the country with your college team, practice and follow your classes all at the same time.
One cannot talk about college Basketball without mentioning the NBA draft. Every year, 60 players will be chosen to join an NBA roster. There is 30 NBA teams and each of them have 2 draft choices each year; those 30 NBA teams will be ranked from the worst one to the best one based on their win-loss record:
the worst team choosing first and thus, having the right to choose any player that entered the draft that year. This system was implemented to balance the league and to give a chance for the worst teams to rebuild at the end of each year. If choosing early gives you a better chance at picking the player you want, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is the right player or that he will develop correctly. Quick reminder, those players are still between 18 and 22 for the most part and have a lot to work on – they are far from being finished products. Teams with a good front office tend to draft well even if they are choosing late (San Antonio for example) while some teams choose early every year and keep making terrible decisions. (Sacramento…)
The 2017 NBA DRAFT
Anyone can enter the NBA draft but approximately a 100 players are taken seriously and could potentially be one of the 60 players selected. The NCAAB (National Collegiate Athletic Association of Basketball) or college is your best chance to be considered to even make it to the NBA. Until 2006, one could enter the NBA draft directly from high school and decide to skip college. Why would one go to college if he wants to make a living playing basketball, right? If it was a huge success for some players to make the leap to the NBA directly from high school (Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett…) and later became generational icons, others never developed and were out of the league within a few years, with no other skills on their resume than playing basketball (and not well enough for the NBA…). The graphic bellow shows how many years each of the first 12 picks of the draft stayed in college before joining the NBA, from 1980 to 2009 (the year the book was published). The bigger circles mean that the player was very successful while the very small ones indicate that the player was never any good. The average circles indicate that they were solid to pretty good NBA players.
Top players used to graduate from college in the 80s while the trend is more and more towards staying only one year in College these days
Thanks to this graphic, one can see that most players declaring for the NBA draft in the 80s had gone through 3 to 4 years of College and thus had graduated or were one year off graduating (and often returned to school for one year and graduate before actually joining the NBA). Starting in the early 2000s, teams started choosing international players (the blue circles) a lot more as basketball and other leagues around the world were becoming more and more important. Those international players wanted to make the leap to the NBA to play against the best of the best while the NBA started to understand that there were some very good players abroad also. Some international players even became NBA stars: Dirk Nowiztki from Germany #8 pick in 98, Pau Gasol from Spain #3 Pick in 2001, Tony Parker from France #28 in 2001, Yao Ming from China #1 pick in 2002… Last and not least, one can see the explosion of people going to college for only one year right after it was made impossible to go directly to the NBA from high school in 2006. If the graphic stops in 2009, the number has kept growing ever since: from 2006 to 2017, out of 660 players that were selected in the NBA draft, 114 went to college for only one year!
“One and done”, as they are called, are highly touted players who go to college with the intension to declare for the NBA draft at the end of their freshman year. The university of Kentucky for example has had teams almost entirely composed of one and done in recent years; from 2010 to 2017, the university of Kentucky has had 20 one and done drafted in the NBA, this is an enormous number! It basically means that out of 420 players drafted from 2010 to 2017, 20 of them were freshmen from the university of Kentucky. Those successful basketball programs, like Duke or Kentucky just to name a few, have become one and done machines. They are not giving those kids an education and they know it, they are basically renting a player for one year to have a successful basketball team but more importantly… to make money!!! College athletes are not paid since they are not technically professionals yet; they don’t receive any money from all the by-products with their name attached to it (jerseys, bobble heads, shoes, t shirts…etc). Fans come to watch their game in enormous arenas, pay to watch them on TV or on the Internet. All this money goes to the NCAA! A future NBA player brings in a lot of money and a lot of free advertising for any university, let alone a future NBA star. The argument that players get a free education in return is laughable; those players are clearly not on campus to receive their college degree. They know it, the university knows it. Only students with very few chances of making it to the NBA stay until their senior year, trying to improve their chances of getting drafted before eventually graduating.
Not speaking of all the corruption there is in the NCAAB; some have gotten caught in recent years (Louisville, Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan…) but it is well known that in order to get a top high school recruit to commit to sign for your university, well… you offer him all kinds of gifts under the table (money, a free diploma, girls… etc). The real question is: What can players really do other than play in college if they want to make it to the NBA? Sit out a year? Play overseas until they are eligible? Why wouldn’t they go to college, it sounds fun to party and be the hero around campus, right? Most players that make it to the NBA come from really poor backgrounds: they would kill to make NBA money. That’s why some of them decide to go play one year abroad professionally, get paid to play basketball and then join the NBA once they are eligible. Brandon Jennings went to Italy for a year while Emmanuel Mudiay went to play in China before being top15 picks in the NBA draft; but it only worked for those two because they were considered top recruits and thus, stayed on NBA radars even while playing abroad. Someone with a less flashy name would go unnoticed and risk never joining the NBA.
Lebron James, the face of the NBA for the last 15 years whose worth more than 1 billion dollars, recently said that the NCAA was corrupted and that kids should have another alternative. The NBA has been putting a lot of efforts in recent year to develop the G League, a league that forms players that are good but not good enough to be in the NBA. Out there, coaching staffs are very experienced and know what it takes to be a successful NBA player. Players are paid more than they could make working any manual job while being put in the right conditions to progress and eventually, make it in the NBA one day.
I believe the long-term plan is for High School students to join the G league instead of going to College and then enter the NBA draft directly from the G league. Nothing is set in stone but at least, it would be easy to change one simple rule. To this day, players that declare for the NBA draft and go undrafted A- cannot declare for the draft again and B- cannot go back to university. Let them go back to university!