CALIPARI, HOWLAND OWE THANKS TO DAVID STERN

                                         Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas

  

The game of college basketball has been severely hurt in the last decade when star high school players went straight to the NBA (whether ready or not).  Once upon a time it was an issue, when a player could sign that three-year contract and not be set for life.  Today, however, anyone with a good family and/or good advisors can sign that initial NBA lottery-pick contract and not worry about money, virtually for life.

   

The game of college basketball became nothing compared to what it once was in the 1960s and 70s into the 1980s.  Routinely, in virtually any four-year period you could select in the last decade, 30 or 40 or 50 of the top (eligibility-wise) college players were already in the NBA.  This hurt the top programs (where the superstar high-school phenoms would generally go) and gave the “mid-majors” and senior-laden teams a better chance to compete at the highest level in the NCAA tournament.

    

What did this do for the quality of play in college basketball?  Well, whether anyone involved in the game (and/or makes his/her living off the game) will admit it or not, it’s been lowered drastically.  Imagine if Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) in the 1960s or Bill Walton in the 1970s had skipped college and gone right to the NBA.  Hopefully, you get the point.

    

Which brings us to David Stern.  Last season was the first year in which high school seniors could not go directly to the NBA.  So you had Greg Oden leading Ohio State to the championship game.  Then he was one and done, off to NBA Portland.  Even with the new rule, there are about 50 players in the NBA who could still have been in college (Kevin Durant, for example, would be a sophomore).

  

Is the rule racist?  Well, that’s already been debated ad nauseum, but whatever side of that argument you’re on, know this:  the rule doesn’t allow (mostly) African-Americans to make a great living when they want to.  Is it a mistake for some of these guys to go pro?  Absolutely, but, what, it’s OK for them to make the mistake a year later?  This is America, remember? 

   

So UCLA coach Ben Howland gets freshman Kevin Love and makes the Final Four.  Memphis coach John Calipari gets freshman Derrick Rose and makes the Final Four.  Would they have made the Final Four without this Stern rule?  Unlikely.  Would these guys have gone to college even if there were not such a rule?  That’s hard to say, no matter what anyone says, because you’re dealing in hypotheticals at that point (although a fair statement would be: the poorer you are, the more likely you would be to come out immediately).

  

While former coach (now ESPN commentator – that sounds funny, doesn’t it?) Bob Knight said “it’s the worst thing that’s happened to college basketball since I’ve been coaching” and, since kids literally don’t have to go to class during their second semester in college, “that has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports,” the reality is that the integrity ship long ago sailed for college sports, especially basketball and football.  Are there many “clean” coaches?  Sure, but there are many with “unclean hands,” as the lawyers like to say in their arguments.  And if Coach K down at Duke really isn’t going to recruit the “one and done” player, then he’s going to have a very hard time getting all the way back to the top.

          

So this is the way it’s going to be now and into the future.  The best high school players will have to go to college for a year, making a mockery of academics and burying coaches (even great ones) who won’t recruit that kind of player.

    

But David Stern should check his mailbox.  This year’s leading thank-you cards will be from Ben Howland and John Calipari.  Next year?  Who knows?

  

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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