The NCAA basketball tournament is just around the corner. Selection Sunday is in a week. The second biggest sporting event in the country, and the longest running in terms of weeks involved, is about to start.
I did not attend a Division I school, and my college-age children are not attending basketball powerhouses, so I don’t really have a horse in this race. However, I do have a rotting interest.
I don’t want Kentucky to win.
The Kentucky Wildcats under coach John Calipari have been the staging area team for National Basketball Association draft picks. The one-and-done approach to college basketball as preached and performed by the Wildcats and Calipari is an abomination of the college basketball game, which I once adored.
One-and-done refers to basketball players who are required by the NBA’s minimum age requirement to find something to do for one year after high school before they are old enough to be drafted into the pro league. What most players (but not all) do is find a college that will give them a scholarship to play basketball and maybe attend a class or two for one year before declaring themselves eligible for the draft.
The one-and-done hurts college basketball because there is no lasting relationship between the players and the fans. The players are just one-year rentals, and the idea of scholar-athlete gets further blurred.
Meanwhile, the NBA is drafting these 19-year-old kids (19 is the minimum age) and most of them are not ready to play in the pros. Those players either sit through their first year or two with little chance to develop, or they get sent to the Developmental League, which is a poor man’s NBA minor league, where the only thing that matters is points and rebounds and true development rarely occurs.
Some players coming out of high school choose not to embarrass the college system by going to an institution of higher learning for one year. They instead play in Europe or Asia where teams will pay large sums for talented young American players.
Unfortunately, the one-and-done approach has worked for the Wildcats under Calipari, who has taken the team to the Final Four three times and won the title once since coming to Lexington in 2009. Prior to the weekend of March 7-8, 2015, the Wildcats were 30-0 for the current season.
Calipari is doing nothing wrong by inviting incoming freshmen to attend Kentucky with the near-promise they will be drafted by the pros after their one season at the school. The NBA has invited that sort of behavior with its minimum age requirement.
But the spirit of college basketball, which has been on the decline ever since college players started leaving school before their four years back in the late 1970s, is now decayed perhaps beyond repair.
There are, however, some people who think they can fix the situation.
When I was growing up, I favored the Bobby Knight-coached Indiana Hoosiers. I grew up in Indiana, where high school basketball was king and college basketball was the crown prince, and the Hoosiers were the best program in the country, even though Knight was a bully to players and referees on a regular basis.
The Hoosiers won the national title in 1976 and I can name the top seven players on that team to this day. I can do the same for the 1981 national champs and the 1987 national champs.
Back in those days, players (for the most part) stayed for four years, some for five, and teams developed a chemistry and a style of play. They were part of our lives for an extended period of time. Today, with players departing college after one or two years, the opportunity to get to know a player and the identity of a team is lost, and that is a shame.
The NBA currently wants to adopt an increase of the minimum age of players to be allowed into the NBA draft form the current 19 to 20, which would cause many players to attend college for two years. That would help the college game, and would help those players who hope to someday get a college degree, but the players association is against that idea, just as they were against any minimum age being instituted. They say it is a restraint against a person’s opportunity to make a living.
Tom Ziller, a writer for SB Nation, suggests the NBA instead make the Developmental League (known as the D-League) a better option by increasing the pay for players in that league, and make it a home to serve younger players as they develop their games properly. The D-League would then become a de facto minor league, just as AAA Baseball is the top minor league for Major League Baseball teams.
Eliminating the minimum age would allow the best young players to get drafted and play in the D-League if they are a marginal pro, and other players could go to college and develop their game there for two, three or even four years.
I want this. I want my college basketball back. I want a real basketball minor league. I want young NBA players to be NBA worthy.
And I want a pony.