As college basketball begins another season, questions linger about the sport and its recruiting practices.
An FBI probe into the underbelly of college basketball recruiting has brought about indictments of assistant coaches, sneaker executives and other middlemen as a result of providing bribes to secure signings of prospective student-athletes.
It also has raised discussion about the sport’s most hotly debated topic, the one-and-done rule.
With the age limit to declare for the NBA draft at 19, the growing number of star freshmen leaving for potential millions in pro basketball has impacted the college game on a variety of fronts. The most talented college teams aren’t as experienced and cohesive and take more time to develop. Some don’t reach their full potential, like Duke last season, which lost to South Carolina in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
Academically, the perception is that one-and-done players can mail it in after one semester, like LSU’s Ben Simmons did before the end of the 2015-16 season.
The FBI probe also has proven that more agents, handlers and shoe companies are willing to invest in players while still in high school, knowing they’ll recoup their investment quickly after one year of college.
So what’s the solution? NBA commissioner Adam Silver openly discussed last month the possibility to either raising the age limit or even lowering it to 18 years to allow the best players to turn pro directly out of high school.
“I’ve always been a proponent of opportunity and so if a kid is able to go out of high school I’d be in favor of that,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I think the one-and-done is problematic on a number of fronts. The academic principle of it is questionable at times. So I think there needs to be dialogue and I think there is.
“I think even prior to what had transpired a few weeks ago, the commissioner of the NBA has been very open of talking about, because he sees it as not in the best interest of his product also. There needs to be a maturation process.”
But Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said there are positives to exposing players to college, even if it’s just for one year. At Texas, Barnes coached a handful of one-and-done players, including Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant.
“I can’t tell you how many guys in the last 10 years have come back to school and finished their degrees,” Barnes said. “The one-and-done rule for those guys that leave early and don’t make it, they know (college) is going to be there.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has had 21 freshmen drafted in the first round since taking over at UK in 2009, has led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and one national title in eight seasons by securing NBA-ready talent coming out of high school.
Calipari is not in favor of reducing the age limit and letting players go to either the G League or NBA out of high school.
“There are going to be unintended consequences if we don’t think of these kids. . . . To have a kid out of high school, on his own, getting up on his own when mom was getting him up every single day, I don’t know if they’re built for that,” Calipari said. “I know (Kentucky is). We have lifetime scholarships.
“Who is this not working for? Is it individual schools? Then don’t recruit these kids.”
Calipari said only five percent of G League players make the NBA.
“What do we do with the ones that don’t make it? Tell me,” Calipari said.”I’m telling you, let’s do what’s right for these kids. Let’s be fair. Doesn’t mean you treat every kid the same. But be fair. Let’s make this a great environment and the sport will be better.”
In contrast to Kentucky, Florida has built its basketball programs of late around an experienced core of three-to-four year players while sprinkling in transfers and grad transfers. Like Billy Donovan before him, Florida coach Mike White said he’d recruit a player with one-and-done ability if the player had a team-first mindset. Florida’s last one-and-done player was guard Bradley Beal, who left after his freshman season in 2012 after helping lead UF to an Elite Eight appearance. Beal was taken third overall in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards and is one of the top scoring guards in the NBA.
“We’re very open to bringing in a guy who wants to be a one-and-done guy or who has the potential to be one, but if he’s going to put himself and his minutes and his shots and his numbers over the success of Florida basketball and over the Gator brand, he’s probably not the right fit,” White said. “I guess that’s the way we’re attacking it right now.”