Lost amongst the back and forth of the lockout, the BRI, the mid-level and the luxury tax is a “system issue” with the chance to change the landscape of professional basketball. It’s hardly mentioned and yet has more potential to affect our game than 51/49 or three-year mid-level contracts instead of five years. The age rule. One vs. two years. High school prodigies and seasoned college vets. It might not happen, but we know the owners and David Stern want it: to increase the already restricting age limit to 20 years old, or two years in college.
Arguments abound for why it’s better to have high school kids stay one year or even longer in college. Yesterday’s Smack hit most of them: they mature emotionally, learn to live on their own, get teaching from coaches that actually want to teach, learn to be the focal point for a team and improve their overall presence so when they do come into the NBA, we don’t have as many one-trick players running around.
But basketball players don’t need college to improve. Of course in the NBA, coaches are more worried about their jobs, keeping their stars happy and making it through that next three-games-in-four-nights road swing. But players have the resources to make the jump. They have personal trainers, 24/7 access to gyms, shot doctors and nothing to occupy their time (especially during the offseason) other than the newest Call of Duty. If they never develop, that’s their own fault. Don’t give them the excuse of never having attended college. When Kevin Garnett came to the NBA, he dressed up his floor game. Kobe improved his body. Amar’e grew a jump shot. Even Rashard Lewis developed into one of the league’s better all-around scorers during his final few years in Seattle. If Dwight Howard had gone to college for a year or two, would he be the next Kevin McHale? It’s doubtful. But he did improve tremendously in his first few years in the NBA.
I know the worth of college. Before I went, I was a socially weak, tunnel-visioned kid who cared about nothing other than playing ball during the day and hitting the sticks at night. I couldn’t manage money. I couldn’t speak to strangers. I couldn’t carry on a conversation off the hardwood. But some of my growth would’ve happened regardless. Maturity happens. You grow up. We’ve been programmed to believe all young, brash, future millionaire basketball players can’t handle the fame. So we coddle them, pretend we know what’s best, limit their opportunities ourselves and yet give the world to young musicians, young actors/actresses, teenage Olympians and other baby pros. But not basketball. So the game isn’t as good as perhaps the 1980s? How much of that really has to do with high schoolers? Many of the league’s best players all came from high school. I’d argue they’ve improved the product rather than hurt it.
Why is the emphasis on college basketball so large this season? Obviously the lockout has a huge hand in this. People will find basketball any way they can, and college ball is currently the best game going. But I don’t think I’m the only one more interested in teams like North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and all the rest because of the presence of potential NBA stars.
“The true NBA fans barely watch college basketball, and the true college fans barely watch the NBA,” John Calipari told AL.com recently. “The college fans will look at it and say, ‘Ahhh, you don’t play until the fourth quarter.’ And the pro fans will say, ‘They can’t even make layups. They’ve got no skills.’ That’s how it is. None of that will change.”
Okay Cal. I get that. Pros fans will be pro fans. College lunatics will stay loony. But the more future pro stars end up staying in college sports, the more we will care, and the more money certain people will make.