Job security? [i]“And of the college players chosen in the second round over the last four years, only 27 percent are still in the (NBA). That’s not a very good percentage.”[/i] - Bobby Lutz
From this morning’s High Point Enterprise, comments made 2 weeks ago by Lutz and Tubby Smith when here for the Jerry Steele event.
[SIZE=2]College basketball sees solutions
By Tom Berry, Staff Sportswriter, High Point Enterprise
College basketball must circle the wagons and start defending its turf.
“We’ve got to protect our brand,” insisted Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.
The problems facing the college game are obvious as the NBA Draft approaches on Thursday night. It’s time to find solutions to an important part of American sports that Duke athletic director Joe Alleva recently said “is in chaos in a lot of ways.”
First, let us count two important ways:
Many of the best high school basketball players never make it to college. As many as eight prep stars are expected to be drafted in the NBA’s first round, including Duke signee Shaun Livingston, a point guard from Peoria, Ill., and North Carolina signee J.R. Smith, a shooting guard from New Jersey.
Never have so many high school stars made the jump in the same year, which could give future prep players unrealistic hope that it will happen every time.
[i]“I think this year is an exceptional year,”[/i] Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz said about the abnormal number of players taking the preps-to-NBA route. [i]“Are these kids ready? Probably not, but their potential is such and the system is such that the NBA takes these guys.”[/i]
Added Livington, who is expected to be among the first five players drafted: “(The NBA) picks a lot more on potential now, and I’m just trying to take advantage of that.”
High school kids jumping to the NBA is not new - Moses Malone started it three decades ago after originally committing to Maryland. But until now, the Atlantic Coast Conference had never lost prep kids to the NBA who had actually signed with member schools.
Most of the best ACC and college stars never make it through four years. For all the Josh Howards of the college world - the 2003 ACC player of the year who played four seasons at Wake Forest and developed into a first-round draft pick - many more players bomb because their brief college career did not prepare them mentally and physically for pro basketball.
Can anyone say Josh Powell? The power forward left N.C. State after his sophomore season in 2003, apparently after receiving poor advice and having unrealistic expectations as an NBA prospect. He wasn’t drafted and has returned to Raleigh, not as a rising senior for the Wolfpack but as a low-paying pro in some obscure minor league.
Three years ago, Charlotte’s Rodney White left after one college season and was selected No. 9 overall. He’s still not close to being an NBA starter or star.
[i]“He’s made a lot of money, but he’s a free agent now,”[/i] Lutz said about White. [i]“I’m confident that he will be in the league again. But no, (leaving early) didn’t work out as well as he hoped.”[/i]
Of the players who actually saw action for an ACC team last season, just one - Duke’s Luol Deng - probably will be a first-round draft pick on Thursday. Compare that to three ACC first-rounders last season, four in 2002, six in 1999 and eight in 1995.
Two other ACC players from last season - senior guards Chris Duhon of Duke and Tim Pickett of Florida State - could go in the second round. Beyond that, the ACC has little hope of having a draft pick among its current member schools.
The ACC will be loaded for 2004-05 because most of the best players in the league return. But ACC fans can only wonder what would have happened had Livingston, Smith, Deng and even former Duke signee Kris Humphries - who has placed himself in the draft after one season at Minnesota - decided to keep their original decisions and stay in the ACC.
Dwight Howard, the Atlanta prep player expected to go No. 2 overall in the draft behind Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor, probably would have gone to Carolina had he decided on college.
The example of LeBron James, who skipped college completely and became the 2004 NBA rookie of the year, cannot help college basketball’s yearn to attract and retain the best players.
Most coaches do not blame youngsters for skipping all or part of their college careers for the NBA. The system gives them that opportunity and the money is usually too good to ignore.
“The competition against the NBA is tough,” said Kentucky’s Smith, who graduated from High Point College in 1973. “We can’t begrudge a kid for making $3 or $4 million a year. Many NCAA student/athletes in other sports like baseball, tennis
and golf leave school early, but basketball seems to catch all the attention.”
Added UNC coach Roy Williams: “I don’t think everybody going to the NBA is bad. Dwight Howard is doing exactly what he should do. But everybody should look at it individually and not make bad decisions and go when they shouldn’t go.”
Fortunately for Lutz and the 49ers, center Martin Iti made a good decision last week and removed his name from the draft pool. After averaging just 6.0 points and 4.7 rebounds as a freshman, the raw Iti may not have been selected at all.
[i]“I did all the research for him, and he would have been a second-round pick at best,”[/i] Lutz said about Iti. [i]“And of the college players chosen in the second round over the last four years, only 27 percent are still in the (NBA). That’s not a very good percentage.”[/i]
Western Carolina’s Kevin Martin will not be returning for his final season of college basketball. Martin finished second in the nation in scoring last season (24.9 ppg), but he’s thin (6-7, 185) with an inconsistent jump shot and a general lack of experience against the nation’s best college players.
Martin’s NBA status is uncertain. A mock draft by CBS Sportsline.com has him going early in the second round to Orlando, but no picks after the first round have the security of a guaranteed contract.
There’s no doubt that Martin could have helped his draft status by staying another year in college. On the other hand, Lutz offered Charlotte native Chris Marcus as an example of a player who stayed in college too long.
[i]“Had Chris left after his junior year at Western Kentucky, he would have been a lottery pick,”[/i] Lutz said. [b][i]"But he got hurt his senior year and he’s out of the league.
“It’s easy to sit and say they shouldn’t go, and in an ideal world they wouldn’t go - they’d get their college degrees. But as long as the NBA allows them to consider it, I don’t think you can blame the kids.”[/b][/i]
Blame the system. Blame the NBA for placing too much emphasis on potential and not production. Blame college basketball for not taking more actions to counter the exodus.
Now college basketball is at the point where something must be done. The wagons must be circled and product protected. There are no easy solutions, but Tubby Smith insists several ideas are being bounced around.
“(NCAA president Myles Brand) has asked coaches to come up with a new recruiting model, to come up with ways we can help encourage and persuade these high schoolers to come to college and be a part of something special,” he said. “I think we have to work closer with the NBA and USA Basketball to maybe implement some rules like baseball and football have.”
In baseball and football, a player cannot be drafted until he has been in college three years. Such a rule was recently upheld in federal court when former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett was denied the chance to enter the NFL Draft just two years after his high school graduation.
Will a three-year rule become part of college basketball?
[i]“The floodgates are already open in basketball, so to speak,”[/i] Lutz explained. [i]“It would be harder to go back after you’ve been allowing it to happen, whereas football never allowed it to happen. I guess that would be the difference.”[/i]
Williams proposes forcing high school and college kids to make their NBA decisions in early April. Now, they have until the middle of June to pull out.
If the decision period is moved up, at least college coaches would have a better chance to adding players who might be credible replacements.
“I would hope that we could perhaps make some slight changes to make the game better,” Williams said. “But I don’t think we should put a Band-Aid on it.”
Yet college basketball doesn’t need a body cast to heal its problems. Television ratings are still good, although dropping slightly, and a big rivalry in the middle of January still elicits strong emotions along Tobacco Road and beyond.
March Madness continues to create national attention and excitement. That won’t change, even if the players are not quite as talented or as likely to stay around as long.
“We’ve got a great sport that continues to rise,” Smith said. “I don’t see any drop in the popularity of college basketball. If anything, it’s growing. It’s still great.”
Added Williams: “I don’t think what is happening is killing the college game.”
The game will remain, but it would improve if the best players spent more time - or any time - in college.
The time is now to find solutions, no matter how difficult.
[i]“There are no easy answers,”[/i] Lutz said.[/SIZE]