Mitchell Robinson is a picturesque example of everything that is wrong with the NBA’s 19-year old age limit, the rule that has created the one-and-done era of college basketball.
He’s an athletic marvel at 7-foot, a prototype for what NBA teams are going to look for in a front court defender in the small-ball era. He’s long enough to protect the rim, strong enough to avoid being bullied on the block and athletic and mobile enough that he can function defending on the perimeter, be it switching on ball-screens or manning up against perimeter-oriented bigs. Robinson is good enough defensively that he’s currently thought of as a potential lottery pick despite the fact that his offensive repertoire essentially consists of ‘catch, dunk, repeat’.
He doesn’t need a year of college to turn him into an NBA player. He plays a position where strengthening his brand has almost no monetary value. And, frankly, he doesn’t want to be in college.
Robinson lasted two weeks at Western Kentucky over the summer before leaving school. He took a look at taking a redshirt year at LSU, Kansas and New Orleans before ultimately opting to return to Western Kentucky for the start of the fall semester. He lasted another couple of weeks before leaving again, officially deciding that he will spend this season training and working out for the 2018 NBA Draft, the first that he will be eligible to enter.
The argument is simple, really. College isn’t for everyone. If you’re an elite prospect with no desire for a year’s worth of higher learning and with no real benefit to spending a season playing in college, you shouldn’t be forced to spend a season playing there.
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Mitchell Robinson is also an example of a player that really could have used a year away from home.
If he has proven anything during his short stint as a college basketball player, it’s that he is either not the best decision-maker or taking advice from all the wrong people. Shall we list the mistakes that he’s made?:
- He is a top ten recruit in the Class of 2017 and a potential lottery pick, yet he made the decision to commit to Western Kentucky in large part because of the presence of his godfather, Shammond Williams, being on Rick Stansbury’s staff. Elite recruits should never pick a school for one year based solely on the presence of someone they know on the staff.
- Robinson also signed a letter of intent with WKU. Elite recruits should never sign an LOI period, let alone with a program they have no business playing at. LOI’s give all the power to the school. They can force a player to redshirt a season if they don’t want to release him from the LOI, but they can rescind the scholarship anytime they want. Elite recruits like Robinson. have all the power. Never. Sign. An. LOI.
- Robinson never should have enrolled in summer school, either. It was a poorly-kept secret that Robinson was having doubts about going to WKU, particularly after Williams resigned in early July. Whoever told him that it was a good idea to go to summer school with those doubts in mind cost him this year. The second Robinson enrolled in a summer school class, he became a WKU student, meaning that his attempts to enroll elsewhere — LSU, Kansas, New Orleans — were complicated by the fact that he was a one-and-done player that needed an exceedingly unlikely waiver in order to avoid having to redshirt the 2017-18 season as a transfer.
He played his entire recruitment wrong, and it begs the question: Who involved in that process actually had Robinson’s best interests in mind?
Spending a year in college at a power program wouldn’t have necessarily solved that problem — let’s just say that the future success of one-and-dones isn’t always the primary motivation for their college coaches — but a change of scenery could have helped.
Robinson has left WKU for the second time in the span of two months, and this time it appears to be for good. He will not be playing college basketball. He also won’t be playing professional basketball. He’s reportedly going to spend the next nine months working out in Dallas — which, admittedly, is better than remaining at home during this process — before entering the NBA Draft.
Robinson now becomes a test-case, a player that will be seen as something of a trailblazer should this become a realistic avenue for players of his ilk to take.
But frankly, that does not seem like something that is likely to happen.
Sitting out for a year is the worst option for elite high school basketball players. Every other option has some significant positives.
If the player goes to college, he’ll be playing on national television every night, building a brand and developing a name for himself while playing at a very high level and living a pretty good life. The dorms that basketball players live in are insane. The facilities that they play and work out in are state of the art. They fly first-class everywhere. They play in some of the most raucous and packed arenas anywhere in the world. They live life as a celebrity on their campus. That, plus the going rate for elite recruits, is a pretty good life to lead.
Playing overseas has benefits as well. Their life might not be as enjoyable — living in a foreign country is not easy — and the American public will have no connection to the player, but they’ll be making good money from the team and through sponsorships while spending a year as a professional. Competing against grown men that are grinding out paychecks and would love to plant an elbow in the ribs of some young hotshot American prospect is good way to learn just what it means to make basketball your 9-to-5.
Spending a one-and-done year in the G League has some of those same benefits. The salary won’t be as much, but you’ll be living in a place where English is spoken, the food is normal, and that sponsorship money — or a loan from an agent — will be more than enough to live it up in places like Reno, Canton, Grand Rapids, Sioux Falls and Fort Wayne.
But sitting out a year?
Robinson will be working out by himself — everyone else is going to be in season, whether at the high school, college or professional level. Someone is going to have to pay for that trainer. Someone is going to have to pay for him to live in Dallas. Shoe companies may be willing to float him some money, but the number likely won’t be that high; I don’t see kids camping outside stores for days to buy the newest Air Hassan Whitesides. Maybe he takes out a loan, maybe he pays out of his own pocket — most likely, it will be funded by an agent — but either way, he’s burning through money without an income coming in.
And all of that ignores that Robinson was essentially forced into this move because of his previous decisions.
After he left WKU, he visited Kansas and LSU. He clearly wanted to be at a bigger school. That wasn’t a realistic option, not unless he wanted to be a redshirt.
Robinson painted himself into this corner.
Maybe it will be enough to convince the NBA to change their age limit. Who knows.
But this saga has a much greater chance of leading one-and-done prospects away from mid-major programs that hired their godfather and straight into the arms of the blue-bloods, where they belong.