Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answered bluntly when William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asked him if race played a factor the perception of highly talented, predominantly black college basketball teams. By extension, that would include national champion Kentucky.
“I want to answer that as honestly as I can,” Izzo said. “I think it would be different. I hate to say that. It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”
After winning a national title at Kentucky, John Calipari has five players, including national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, on track to enter the NBA draft, shed their amateur status, and begin to make money off of their talents as a professional.
For all the criticism that Calipari has faced in his tenure as a college coach, it is undeniable, especially at Kentucky, that he has helped players launch lucrative basketball careers, a path which gives them an opportunity to better themselves and create financial stability for themselves and their families.
One of the attributes that makes Calipari so successful at the college level, aside from the sincere caring he has for his players and their futures (which any coach worth his salt should have, anyway) is the recognition of one fact:
Not every career is made in a classroom.
For high-major players, many of whom come from humble beginnings in working class households, college is an apprenticeship program, a stop along the way to a professional career (and a highly beneficial one, at that).
Why can’t the college experience be viewed that way?
Cramming a star athlete into a science laboratory and forcing him to play with pipettes and flasks for four years can do just as much good as forcing a future technological entrepreneur, someone with the potential of Steve Jobs or Bills Gates, to study geology without end.
There is no negative connotation here, no implication that athletes somehow possess less intelligence than any other college student, as the NCAA’s ‘dumb jocks’ campaign so counterproductively planted into the minds of fans.
The argument is about harnessing the type of intelligence that a certain student has and helping that person utilize it to make a living. While others may succeed with a calculator or paintbrush, Anthony Davis is one of the most kinesthetically intelligent students in the country.
And believe me, he is on track to make a lot more money off of that intelligence than most. With good financial planning, he could be set for life.
If there were colleges and universities that prided themselves on churning out star artists and business professionals after one or two years, leading them into high-paying jobs and giving them opportunities to succeed, would we have the same outrage as we see with these Kentucky underclassmen possibly entering the NBA draft?
For the players at the very top like these players in Calipari’s program, they have an economic opportunity that has not been afforded to many others in the general population.
It makes for great debate to take the intellectual “high road” and say that players should stay four years, graduate with a degree, and have a fall-back plan.
But the reality of the situation is this, and any business professional (regarded so highly it seems, in comparison to athletes) will tell you: When the difference between staying in school and going pro is a decision between zero-income amateur status and multi-million dollar professional and sponsorship contracts, there comes a point where it is imprudent not to go pro.
For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.
As Rhoden of the Times writes so eloquently in metaphor about the jump to the NBA for players from low-income backgrounds:
“But when you are being pursued by the poverty hounds and see a fence, you jump it and take your chances with whatever is on the other side.”
[Post updated 9 April 2012, 3:03p.m.]