By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Should Duke’s Jabari Parker go pro? Should Kansas’ Joel Embiid? What about Kentucky’s Julius Randle, or any of the Wildcats’ other fab frosh?
Well, if they’re sure-fire lottery picks, the answer is probably yes. You don’t gamble on that kind of money.
But as a college basketball fan, do I truly want any of them to go pro? No, I can’t say that I do. And, really, I wish that they weren’t.
Ever since high school basketball players were required to spend one year in college before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft – thanks to the NBA’s 19-year-old age limit – I’ve lamented the impact that the rule has had on both kids and college hoops.
I don’t really think it does much positive for either.
Recently, new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has indicated a desire to raise the NBA age limit to 20, essentially requiring athletes to spend two years at the college level before joining the pros. His argument is that the influx of younger players who have never had a chance to lead has had a negative effect on the league.
I’m sure that it has, although I’m not really that concerned about the NBA. Rather, I’m much more interested in the fate of college basketball. And, personally, I think basketball players should be able to go pro directly from high school if they desire to do so – just like high school baseball players can. After all, everyone should have a right to make a living if there’s a market for their skills, and no one should be forced to commit to a school if they truly have no interest being there.
However, conversely, if a basketball player does decide to go the college route, I think he should indeed have to stay longer than one season.
With baseball, college players can’t go pro until after their junior season or when they turn 21, whichever comes first. Now, requiring players to spend three years in college is probably too much for basketball, but like Silver suggests, two years sounds about right.
And I think it would be a boon for the college game, which is already great on so many levels, but could still be much greater.
As this ongoing NCAA Tournament has shown, college hoops still has the best postseason tournament of any in the sports biz. But these days, the March Madness storylines largely are driven by the schools, whether they be name-brand or Cinderella, and the personalities of coaches.
But as for the best players? Well, we barely get to know them. But it didn’t used to be that way.
Earlier this week, for example, I was having a Twitter discussion with a UNLV fan out in Las Vegas. We were debating the greatest teams to never win an NCAA Championship and talking about who would emerge victorious between a matchup of the Runnin’ Rebels of 1991 UNLV and The Flyin’ Illini of 1989 Illinois.
On those two legendary squads, the Rebels returned four starters from their 1990 National Championship team in seniors Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and junior Anderson Hunt, while the 1989 Illini lineup was comprised of seniors Kenny Battle and Lowell Hamilton, along with juniors Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill and Steve Bardo.
As we discussed those veterans, the UNLV fan tweeted, “Makes me miss they way college basketball used to be. Those were the days when college basketball was a grown man’s game.”
And that is true to an extent, although college basketball has long been a kid’s game too, what with the likes of Michigan’s “Fab Five” leading the Wolverines to the 1992 national championship game as freshmen.
The difference with that bunch, however, was that the quintet of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all returned to Ann Arbor for their sophomore seasons. During that second go-aroud, they lifted Michigan back to the NCAA Championship Game, and even though they again didn’t win it, the group still cemented themselves as legends – much like the ’91 Rebels and ’89 Illini – largely because we got to known them.
Now, on the flip side, take a look at Kentucky this season. With five freshman starters, the Wildcats essentially are the “Fab Five” circa 2014, but even if Kentucky wins the championship, I doubt that Randle, twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and James Young will become as iconic nationally as Michigan’s runner-up freshmen did.
That’s partly because Kentucky has skyrocketed onto the scene in tournament after sputtering under the radar throughout much of regular season, and partly because we’ve become conditioned to not get too attached to star freshmen since we know most of them will be gone from college hoops before we can blink.
But beyond that, you can guarantee that Kentucky’s lineup won’t return intact as sophomores next year. We just won’t have the opportunity to get as familiar with these freshmen.
Instead, next season will be about the school (Kentucky), the coach (John Calipari) and his latest group of Fab Frosh (whose names we’ll probably forget almost as soon as we learn them). That doesn’t mean things will be dull for fans, but it does mean they could be more compelling if only every college basketball player got a second chance.
After making a first impression.