Duke's recruiting haul a winner
Posted November 22, 2013
This certainly has been a banner fall for Duke Athletics. David Cutcliffe's football team is ranked among the nation's top 25 and is poised for their greatest season in post-World War II college football.
The field hockey team is in the national semifinals in Norfolk, VA. Joanne P. McCallie's Lady Blue Devils are ranked second in the nation and might have the best chance to reach the Final Four since she took over the program seven years ago. And of course, there's men's basketball – where even a loss to highly-ranked Kansas can't seem to slow down the early-season momentum for Mike Krzyzewski's program.
Thursday, even as the current Blue Devils were preparing for a Sunday game with Vermont followed by a trip to New York and a potential meeting with Arizona, another serious national contender, Coach K was winning big in recruiting.
Just a few days after Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones – the best big man and point guard in the 2014 class – committed to the Devils, top-15 recruit Justice Winslow announced his intention to join them in Durham. Add slick-shooting guard Grayson Allen from Florida to the mix and you have a four-man class that will be as heralded as any in the Kryzyzewski era at Duke.
However, for all this class' greatness and potential, there comes with it a bit of hypocrisy. Not from the school or the players though, the double-talk will come from members of the hyper-critical media and fans throughout the country. While I'm not interested in speculating about just how quickly some of those players will leave school for careers in professional basketball, the reality tells us that the best players usually leave for the NBA after just one year.
Kyrie Irving was only around for 10 games. Austin Rivers never saw his sophomore season (yes, that was probably a welcome development for some of his teammates, but you understand the point). And, I think we'll all raise an eyebrow, not to mention a glass of something, if the sensational Jabari Parker opts for another amateur season rather than a top-3 slot in the draft. As for the Okafor-Jones-Winslow troika, who knows what their plans are, but it wouldn't register on the Richter scale if any of the three opted for early exits as well.
Again, I'm not speculating as to their intentions and I'm not even saying that any of them are good enough to graduate to that level of basketball so quickly as I have never seen any of them in short pants. Historically speaking, however, almost half of the players in the consensus top ten of recruiting rankings spend just one season at the college level before making the leap to the pros. And, as evidenced above, Duke is not immune to this phenomenon.
When this happens at Kentucky, where John Calipari is the lightning rod for all that ills the college game, it's evidence of a sport in crisis. 'Oh, there goes Calipari again, with his one-and-done kids, ruining college basketball.'
When Calipari's fingerprints are on it, we have to do something about it. When it happens to Roy Williams (Marvin Williams or Branden Wright) or Coach K, well, you get the picture.
Let me tell you this much – players who only stay for one season in college basketball absolutely do NOT hurt the game. Players who leave after their freshman year because an NBA team is willing to invest millions of dollars in their futures greatly HELP college basketball. The ACC, the SEC, the Big East (is that still a thing?) and the NCAA overall are better off with those players for one season than not having them grace their courts at all. You tell me, would the Champions Classic have been a better event without Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker?
Would those two games have drawn so much attention, created so much conversation had all three of them already been dribbling around for the Kings, Raptors or Pelicans?
Of course not.
Unlike many coaches and fans, I'm not against players leaving after one season of college basketball. In fact, the only part of the "one-and-done" element I detest is the name. It carries a negative connotation that serves no effective purpose and only aids in labeling the player as selfish, only reluctantly stopping over to play in college because his other options aren't any better.
That's patently unfair. Every single young man is different, with different dreams, goals, values, etc. To put them all under the same banner is simple-minded and a "you" problem. Remember, this is NOT a college rule, this is part of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. In order to be eligible for the NBA draft, a player must be one year removed from his high school graduation.
However, he doesn't have to go to college. He could play professionally overseas, as current Pistons guard Brandon Jennings did, or you could play in the NBA's developmental league. Both are options for players not interested in playing the one season in college, but I'd stop far short of declaring them better options.
Frankly, I wish players could turn professional immediately after high school as LeBron James was allowed to do a decade ago, for I am in favor of allowing adults the freedom to make their own decisions. However, I'm absolutely against forcing players to stay in school for an additional year lobbied for by so many coaches – similar to the "baseball" rule where Major League Baseball's draft guidelines state that once a player enters a four-year college he is ineligible for the draft until after his junior season.
In reality, the only real loser here is the educational process, but if you've been paying attention to major college athletics, especially among the for-profit sports, we've just about written that off as a loss-leader.
Of course, there are more important things in life than a college education, which didn't exactly help Bill Gates or Larry King along their roads to fame and (varying degrees of) fortune. In most cases, it's the life experiences, the maturation that comes with your first taste of independence that is the greatest benefit gained from the college experience.
As fans, we'll all get over the rapid departure of the Parkers, Randles, Wiggins and maybe Okafors of the world. As long as the rules don't change again, we'll find more of them next year and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. And, we'll all be okay with it, as long as they don't play for John Calipari. THEN, we've got a problem.