Changing the NBA’s age limit will have repercussions, but to evaluate we must stop calling one-and-dones ‘students’

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We’re never going to solve the problem of the one-and-done rule if we don’t stop thinking of the best college basketball players as students.

Because they aren’t, at least not in the way that we typically think of a person being a ‘student’.

There is no tangible academic benefit that these kids are receiving by enrolling in, at most, a year of introductory college courses. Freshman year is college is for you to figure out exactly what academic path it is that you want to follow, and — *GASPS* — these one-and-done caliber players learn quite quickly that being a basketball player is the path they want to follow.

I know it. You know it. They know it. The coaches recruiting them know it. The owners drafting them know it.

And Adam Silver knows it.

On Wednesday, Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, went on ‘The Herd’ with Colin Cowherd and let the world now that he, along with the NBA bigwigs, are reconsidering their position on the one-and-done rule, an age limit that essentially forces high school graduates to spend one season playing college basketball instead of leaping directly to the draft out of high school.

“Even the so-called one-and-done players, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize them as going to one year of school,” Silver said. “What’s happening now, even at the best schools, they enroll in those universities — some great universities — and they attend those universities until either they don’t make the tournament, and the last game therefore of their freshman season, or to whenever they lose or win in the NCAA Tournament, that becomes their last day. So in essence it’s a half-and-done, in a way.”

He’s right and wrong — without getting too into the nitty gritty of it all, the APR is a formula that prevents this from happening by requiring players to leave in good academic standing, but depending on how cynical you are, you may not believe that these players are doing their own online coursework — but he’s also totally missing the point.

We need to stop thinking about players of this ilk, basketball prospects that are good enough for NBA team to consider drafting them in the first round as 19-year olds, as students.

So let’s be adults about this, shall we?


Packed house for the NBA D League finals. (Photo via NBA D League)

The NBA’s position, since before Silver took over as commissioner, has been that they do not want to get rid of the age limit, which is why it was eye-opening for many to hear him say, “It may surprise you. I’m rethinking our position.”

“I think we all agree that we need to make a change,” Silver then said during Thursday’s press conference before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. “My sense is it’s not working for anyone.”

It begs the question: What is he rethinking? That high school kids should be allowed to enter the NBA Draft, or that they should be forced to spend more time in college.

The one-and-done rule exists because NBA owners were tired of drafting high school kids that they couldn’t properly evaluate. They also didn’t want to give an 18-year old millions of dollars and let him loose in America’s best party cities with NBA celebrity attached to his name. But, perhaps most significantly, they didn’t want to pay a seven-figure salary to develop these kids as players only to see them bolt for greener pastures when they hit their prime. By delaying things for a year on the front end they are able to keep those players under contract and reap the benefits of their investment for an extra year on the back end. In other words, instead of paying an 18-year old to learn, put on weight and ride the bench, you send them to college for a year and then pay them to, hopefully, help your team win a lot of games as a 27-year old.

Silver uses Ben Simmons, who was a notoriously apathetic student during his one season at LSU, dropping out of classes as soon as LSU’s postseason-less season came to an end, as an example of all that’s wrong with the one-and-done rule.

But what Silver may not realize is that Simmons intentionally and actively made the decision to make himself susceptible to the NBA’s one-and-done rule. Simmons is Australian. He left the Outback in 2013 to enroll at Monteverde Academy in Florida, a decision that essentially delayed his chance to enter the NBA Draft for a year. Had he remained an international, he would have been eligible to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. But Simmons realized the branding potential available in college, so he spent a year at LSU and was taken No. 1 in the 2016 draft.

These kids spend a year playing every game on national television. They get profiled by media outlets such as College Basketball Talk. They develop a following and a fanbase and, if they’re good enough, start to build their own brand. Don’t believe me? At this point a year ago, did you know who LaVar Ball or Lonzo Ball was? That’s good for the teams drafting them, and as Simmons showed us, there’s a benefit for the players themselves.

At the highest level of basketball, the players make more money off of endorsements — off their ‘brand’ — than they do from the NBA team that they play for. They know who is their employer and what is their side-gig.

There is no downside to this for the owners of NBA teams. The longer they spend in college, the better it is for those billionaires, I’d argue, and if we’ve learned anything about America in the last two years it’s that when a group of billionaires want something to happen, it happens. See: Trump, Donald.

The other side of this is the NBA Players Association, who must agree to any decision that the owners want to make. The NBPA is made up of players currently in the NBA, players that could end up losing their job, or their chance at a bigger/longer contract, when some of these young stars make their way to the league. Put another way, there is a larger pool of money and more available longterm contracts for the guys that currently make up the NBPA voters.

Do you think they’re going to vote to eliminate the age limit and double the number of talented potential stars entering the league in one year?


Kentucky Wildcats fans (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 


This is where it gets complicated.

The mitigating factor in all of this is the D-League, which, beginning next year, will be known as the G League.

The G League is growing. There are now 26 teams, each of which is affiliated with one of the 30 NBA teams. With the exception of the Portland Trailblazers, there seems to be movement in the direction of having every NBA team affiliated with a G League team. The new collective bargaining agreement also created a new kind of player contract — a two-way contract — that allows two designated G League players per organization to get paid between $75,000 and $275,000, depending on how much time they spend with the NBA team; the point of this is to keep the most talented players that are not yet NBA players stateside, to allow them to develop within an organization as opposed to jumping overseas for, potentially, more money.

Put another way, the G League is trending up, and there is clearly an investment from the NBA in creating another avenue for development beyond the NCAA.

In fact, 18-year olds are already allowed to enter the G League, playing a year at that level before becoming draft-eligible, but it hasn’t taken root. That’s because salaries are so low. Terrance Ferguson and Emmanuel Mudiay went pro in Australia and China, respectively, instead of going to the G League.

But other than that duo, there really hasn’t been a push from elite prospects to skip college altogether.

Why?

(We’re still talking like adults here, right?)

Because they can make more money in college. L

et’s not be naïve here. Let’s stop talking about these ‘student’-athletes as anything more than what they are: basketball players. The NBA has a long way to go before G League salaries are more than the going rate for an elite prospect in college basketball, and that’s before you factor in what life is like being a celebrity in a place like Lexington or Lawrence or Tucson.

Out of principle, I hate the fact that the NBA creates barriers of entry into an industry for kids that clearly have a marketable skill. They should be allowed to capitalize on their talent. The NCAA’s amateurism is even worse, and if you’ve read this space before you know my feelings on that. It’s criminal.

That said, from the girls to the dorms to the workout facilities to the private jets to the insanity of a packed college arena to the tax-free handouts, life is pretty good as a one-and-done college basketball player, and it almost certainly is better than riding a bus from Fort Wayne to Erie to play in front of 100 people while your parents watch on a YouTube livestream.

It will be a longtime before the G League is able to match what the college basketball institutions can match.

What that means is that there are two questions here that need to be answered:

  1. What do the shoe companies want? There is an inherent value in brand development by having a potential superstar spending a year playing for a school like Kentucky, whose fans are as loyal as they come even for guys that spend seven months on campus. Does Nike want the next LeBron or Kevin Durant to lose that year of free publicity? It’s worth noting here that shoe companies are trending away from the monster contracts for rookies, instead investing in established stars in the NBA.
  2. Would the NBA be willing to change how rookie contracts work? Think about a situation like this: If NBA teams could draft a player out of high school — even a junior in high school — and pay him $1 million annually to play in the D-League until he gets called up to the NBA, at which point the NBA’s rookie scale contract gets activated, is that something that would be appealing to both sides? Even if that exact situation isn’t the answer, there are ways to ensure elite prospects get paid like elite prospects in the G League without doing damage to the NBA team’s salary cap or starting their rookie contract clock a year early.

Regardless of what college coaches and ADs will tell you, college basketball has been a beneficiary during the one-and-done rule.

There have been some definitively great players that have come through the collegiate ranks, putting together memorable seasons and tournament runs.

College basketball will survive. It’s not a star-driven sport. Fans root for Arizona or UCLA, Kentucky or Louisville, Kansas or Wichita State. They don’t root for specifically for the players that arrive each fall, and the NCAA tournament is and always will be the most exciting sporting event — and the absolute best event for gambling — in the country.

But if we do reach a point where the best basketball players in the world never again set foot on a college court, it’s a net-negative for the game.

Five-star 2018 recruit Anfernee Simons could test NBA Draft process

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Five-star Class of 2018 guard Anfernee Simons is interested in potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the former Louisville commit will likely be eligible to jump to the NBA straight out of high school since he graduated high school last year while turning 19 next June. The 6-foot-4 Simons, considered the No. 16 overall prospect in the Rivals’ Class of 2018 national rankings, is playing a post-grad season at IMG Academy for 2017-18 after reclassifying as a sophomore.

If Simons opts to go pro than college basketball loses a potential star as he’s been shooting up the national rankings over the past year. Simons was committed to the Cardinals since the beginning of his junior year but he opened things up once former head coach Rick Pitino lost his job in a fallout from the FBI investigation on college basketball.

Simons started his season at the National Prep Showcase this weekend as six NBA teams sent people to watch him play, according to Givony’s report.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens in this situation as Simons hasn’t done much with the recruiting process over the last several months. Now that NBA teams are already watching him play, Simons could follow in Thon Maker’s footsteps and turn pro right away.

LaVar Ball on Trump’s involvement in bringing son home: ‘Who?’

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The war of words none of us wanted is now upon us.

LaVar Ball downplayed the impact that Donald Trump had in ensuring that his son, LiAngelo, along with two other UCLA players were released from custody and returned to the United States following a shoplifting incident on the team’s trip to China.

“Who?” the eldest Ball told ESPN on Friday night when asked about Trump’s involvement. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

When the players arrived back in Los Angeles, and before they had a chance to speak publicly, Trump had already taken to twitter to complain about the fact that the trio had not yet thanked him. Trump happened to be in China at the same time and, in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he reportedly asked for his counterpart’s help in assuring an expedited legal process.

Trump got the thank you that he so desperately needed when UCLA held a press conference announcing that the three players would be suspended indefinitely, but LaVar was not going to let the President have the last word. And you can bet that Trump is not going to let this be the end of it, either, which means that two men that have risen to prominence through their willingness to say the audacious whenever the spotlight is on them will have the floor.

And unless someone has managed to change the passcode on Trump’s cellphone, you can rest assured that this will not be the end of it.

Bridges perfect from 3, No. 5 Villanova blows out Lafayette

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Mikal Bridges set a school record by hitting all six of his 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in No. 5 Villanova’s 104-57 rout of Lafayette on Friday night.

Jalen Brunson added 22 points and hit 4 of 6 3s in another dominant performance by the Wildcats (3-0), who made 16 of 30 from long range.

Three nights after setting a school record with 13 blocked shots in a blowout of Nicholls, the versatile and deep Wildcats showed another strength and overwhelmed the Leopards (0-3).

Led by Bridges’ 4 of 4 long-distance shooting, Villanova hit 11 of its first 14 3s in racing to a 39-16 lead. The Wildcats had a stretch of nine straight baskets being 3s en route to a 56-23 halftime lead.

Matt Klinewski had 16 points and six rebounds for Lafayette, which was 7 of 29 from 3-point range.

Bridges finished 9 of 10 from the field before he sat out the final 10 minutes. The junior bested his previous career-high by one point set Tuesday.

While it was a Villanova home game, it was played about 50 miles from campus at the PPL Center, home of minor league hockey’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It was a 20-mile drive for Lafayette, but the Wildcats sure seemed at home.

Villanova spent much of the second half going inside to score. Omari Spellman had 15 points and nine rebounds and Eric Paschall had 14 points and eight boards.

BIG PICTURE

Lafayette: Try as a Patriot League school squaring off against one of the best teams in the nation and watching the opponent shoot like that, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s alma mater never had a chance.

Villanova: The Wildcats have perimeter shooting, depth inside and play good defense. They’ve been dominant against inferior competition, and will finally get tested next week.

SO MANY 3-POINTERS

Bridges surpassed Doug West in 1988 and John Celestand in 1999, each of whom went 5 of 5 from long range. Villanova finished one shy of the school record of 17 3s set against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2005.

NO LUCK

Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon fell to 0-6 against his alma mater. O’Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game with 16 set against Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970.

Only six Division I coaches have been at their schools longer than O’Hanlon, in his 23rd season.

UP NEXT

Lafayette visits Princeton on Wednesday.

Villanova faces Western Kentucky on Wednesday in the first of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona are possible opponents the following two days.

Mykhailiuk helps No. 4 Kansas rout South Dakota State, 98-64

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Svi Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 27 points, Lagerald Vick finished with 22 and fourth-ranked Kansas routed Summit League favorite South Dakota State 98-64 on Friday night.

Udoka Azubuike added 17 points and Malik Newman had 13 for the Jayhawks (3-0), who shot 60 percent from the field and didn’t commit a turnover until midway through the second half.

By that point, the Jackrabbits (3-1) were staring at a 30-point deficit.

Mike Daum led South Dakota State with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Tevin King contributed 12 points and David Jenkins Jr. scored 10 off the bench.

Once again without heralded freshman Billy Preston, the Jayhawks were forced to use the same reduced rotation that managed to top seventh-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night. But their perilous lack of depth became crippling in the first half when Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot picked up two fouls each.

That forced coach Bill Self to use walk-on Clay Young in the post.

The 6-foot-5 senior turned out to be a bright spot, too, keeping the ball moving on offense and handling the 6-9 Daum inside. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer at more than 21 points per game had eight on 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, when Young spent a good chunk of time covering him.

Nobody could cover Mykhailiuk, though.

The senior from the Ukraine hit his first three shots — the Jayhawks made eight of their first nine — while getting into an easy rhythm. Even on the seemingly rare occasion that his jumper didn’t splash the net, it often rattled around the rim and dropped through to a thunderous ovation.

Several of his baskets came on feeds from Devonte Graham, who didn’t hit a field goal until deep in the second half. He finished with eight points but also had 11 assists and five boards.

PRESTON SITS

Preston went through early warmups but remained on the bench as Kansas investigates an on-campus incident that raised questions about the “financial picture” of the car he was driving. Self declined to discuss the situation other than to say “we’re definitely going to hold him out until we get to the bottom of this.” Self did say he expects a resolution soon.

BIG PICTURE

South Dakota State can recover from its thumping in paradise with a trip to the Cayman Islands Classic up next. But their next trip to the Sunflower State figures to be just as tough: They visit No. 6 Wichita State on Dec. 5.

Kansas cruised despite a shortened lineup again, and help is only a month away. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible for a trip to Nebraska on Dec. 16, and there is a chance five-star prospect Silvio De Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy enrolls at the semester break.

UP NEXT

South Dakota State plays Wyoming on Monday in George Town, Cayman Islands.

Kansas continues a four-game home stand against Texas Southern on Tuesday night.

No. 18 Louisville hangs on over Omaha 87-78

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ray Spalding had a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, Deng Adel had a game-high 21 points and Anas Mahmoud had eight of his team’s 15 blocked shots as No. 18 Louisville outlasted Omaha 87-78 on Friday night.

Spalding scored 14 points after halftime, and Adel made 7 of 8 shots from both the field and the free-throw line to pace the offense for the Cardinals (2-0), who led by 20 early in the second half but didn’t make a field for the last 4:36 of the game.

Omaha (0-4) was competitive in facing its highest-ranked opponent since becoming an NCAA Division I program in the 2011-12 season. The Mavericks hung around with a 12-0 second-half run and got within 71-64 on KJ Robinson’s 3-pointer with 5:45 left, but Louisville answered with seven straight points to keep the lead large enough to stay unbeaten under interim coach David Padgett.

Louisville’s three primary big men — Spalding (6-foot-10), Mahmoud (7-0) and Malik Williams (6-11) — bothered Omaha with their length around the rim. Mahmoud flirted with a triple-double, posting 10 points and eight rebounds to go with his blocks. Williams, a former five-star recruit who made his first career start in place of Mahmoud, had eight points, four rebounds and three blocks. Spalding blocked three shots, too.

Daniel Norl led five Omaha scorers in double figures with 16 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Omaha: The Mavericks averaged 83.9 points in their first three games but dug a hole in the first half when they shot only 24.4 percent to go down 40-25 at halftime. Louisville finished the first half on an 18-7 run, and Omaha made only one of its final nine shots before the break.

Louisville: Adel, who scored 20 points in the season-opening win over George Mason, continues to impress with his slicing drives and up-tempo play and shapes up as one of the top wings in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He made his first seven shots and added eight rebounds.

UP NEXT

Omaha plays at TCU on Monday as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, the fourth of seven straight games away from home to start the season while the Mavericks’ home arena hosts the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials.

Louisville has home games against Southern Illinois on Tuesday and Saint Francis next Friday before traveling to Purdue on Nov. 28 for the Big 10/ACC Challenge.