This Is What’s Wrong With College Basketball
It was just a short, passing item in a newspaper account the other day, but it told you everything that is wrong with college basketball.
The day before their latest solid victory over Arizona State, several UCLA Bruins, including sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt, junior Malcolm Lee and freshman Joshua Smith, were queried about the possibility of their next two conference matches being their final home games in a college uniform before they bolt for the NBA.
I read it and I didn’t just do a double take. It was more like a triple or quadruple take. Say what?
These kids honestly believe they might be ready for the pros? Really?
Of that group, only Honeycutt has a certified NBA skill set, but even he isn’t close to being prepared, unless you believe ranking second in the Pac-10 in turnovers qualifies you as a high first rounder. Yes, he can do a lot of nice things on the court, but most of them are still lacking both consistency and polish.
As for the rest of them . . .come on. Nelson is a classic tweener, a hard-nosed kid whose attitude you love. But his altitude doesn’t equal, or even come close, to that attitude. And when you’re his size and you can’t jump, or shoot particularly well, you might want to start looking into another line of work.
Lee is a brittle-looking guard who shoots OK and defends with the best in the conference. But he won’t be able to defend strong 6-5 or 6-6 240 pounders like they have in NBA backcourts. He needs more time and a lot more bulk.
And as for Smith, he’s not really ready to play full time in college, let alone in the pros. This is a kid with huge upside. He has the size, the hands and a surprisingly soft touch from outside. But he hasn’t even begun to understand the game yet. Deep on the block, he still dribbles when it is unnecessary, he fouls way too often and he stands around with the ball at the top of the key and consistently gets it slapped away.
All that can be corrected, but it should be at UCLA, not buried on the bench in, oh, say, Charlotte or Milwaukee.
I don’t mean to take it out on these kids. They’ve had a really fine comeback season for Ben Howland. But this is symptomatic of what is happening everywhere in the country. It is one thing when a Derrick Rose or a John Wall plays one year in college and opts out for the NBA.
But it is another when kids who aren’t even close to being ready, including some who never will be ready, start thinking about leaving school early to gamble with their futures.
College basketball needs to do something about this, because not only is it ruining their game, it is ruining a lot of young men’s lives.
Ever since this one-and-done rule was implemented, I’ve been against it. Considering TV ratings and attendance are down most places in the country, I think it is proving my point.
The thing is, it would be simple to fix. College basketball needs to switch to the college baseball rules for entering the draft. Any kids from high school who are drafted and want to go straight to the pros can do so. But those who opt to attend college must then spend three years in school before they are eligible for the draft again.
Take your choice. If you are that rare Rose or Wall-like talent, go ahead and jump. But if you’re closer to the Reeves Nelsons and Joshua Smiths of the world, then you could stay in school, refine your skills for three years and then leave, if you so desire, to begin what you hope will be a pro career.
The solution seems so obvious, and yet, the sport drags its sneakers and refuses to even address the issue.
OK, but if the decision makers would only look around, they’d see that this year is a prime example of how badly things are going. There are no great teams in the country. Only a few very good ones. And even they lack a true identity.
Go ahead, name me more than one or two players on Ohio State or Pittsburgh or Texas. Those are three legitimate Final Four candidates, and yet I’d be stunned if more than a couple of you could name two starters on any of those teams.
It never used to be that way. Everyone used to know who was starting for Duke or UCLA or any of the great teams. Everyone wanted to tune in to see a Laettner or a Walton, a West or a Robertson, a Duncan or a Stockton.
College basketball has gone from being a raging four-month entertainment to your basic, fleeting one month sport. Too bad.
It could still be so much more.
— STEVE BISHEFF