"Any time you get Congress involved, anything can happen," said one scout currently employed by an NBA team. "Oh, I still know who the best high school players are, but if that rule wasn't in place, I'd be packing my bags for Vegas right now."
Ah, Vegas ... where hundreds of club teams (including mine) will descend upon the three sneaker-company-sponsored tournaments that serve as this week's one-city meat market for the discerning stares of college coaches. Back in the good, ol' days before Commissioner David Stern and his players' union (unwittingly?) turned college basketball into a one-and-done free-for-all, NBA scouts often were obliged to witness high school hotshots in person.
But thanks to objections filed by a Tennessee congressman, the league's age-restriction rule (must be 19 and one year removed from home room) has, once again, become a national hoop debate.
In case you hadn't noticed, prom-fresh high school players have been banned from entering the NBA Draft without first spending a year in college or Europe since 2005. It should be mentioned that since then, the college basketball landscape has been pock-marked by players entering college against their ultimate NBA wishes, often blowing off classes during the second semester of their freshman year to prepare for the draft.
The one-and-done format has graced us with a test-taking controversy involving Derrick Rose and an alleged-cash-oriented scandal co-starring O.J. Mayo. I actually heard a basketball-specializing big thinker inform his TV audience that the development of Rose and Mayo is an argument FOR the age restriction. That's just beautiful.
For the record, how many centers and power forwards arrive in the NBA with a clue about how to play on the post?
Cue the scout: "Almost none."
OK, so you can practice more drop-spins or squeeze off more turn-out jumpers with an NBA player-development guy than you can with the No. 3 assistant at State U. But doesn't the college experience accelerate the off-court maturity of anyone wise enough to enroll?
Let's slow this one down a bit. You ... can become mature ... more quickly ... while attending college. Sure, there are knuckleheads who went to the league right out of high school, but please note that Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest attended college.
In my experience, attending college only postponed the need to demonstrate a whisper of maturity.
Anyway, I also reject the notion that for every Dwight Howard, you have a Leon Smith or Korleone Young. I'm not arguing that every player who entered the draft was wise to do so. But if the prospect in question isn't Kobe or LeBron or KG or T-Mac or Dwight Howard or Amare or Monta Elli or Al Jefferson or Rashard Lewis or Josh Smith ... don't draft him.
The scout referenced earlier admitted that identifying the great player at age 17 or 18 is easier said than done. I don't doubt it. I also don't doubt that adding a year or two to the evaluation process might in theory make for more sound hiring practices. But have we really been treated to more informed drafting since 2005?
Less than a month after going second in the 2009 draft, serial collegian Hasheem Thabeet has several NBA talent sharpies shaking their heads. (More on that later this week.)
And before you continue trotting out more busters like Leon Smith, it should be pointed out that many who since have disappeared lacked the academic profile to even qualify for college.
Since Kevin Garnett kick-started the trend back in 1995, 38 high schoolers have hopped into the draft; 14 are or have been star-caliber players. And if you're truly embracing the notion that Kobe or LeBron still would have been just dandy (or better) with one year under Coach K, please tell me where they might be after a catastrophic injury during that freshman season.
It's true that there are more opportunities to be injured in an NBA season; but first-round picks receive guaranteed millions. Anyone can return to school and pay for an education after destroying a knee in pro basketball. But you have just one opportunity to make seven figures at age 18.
By the way, if you're prepared to suggest that skipping college to pursue a professional sports career is an inappropriate referendum on the importance of education to minority youth, please point that finger at the hundreds of kids skipping college to pursue careers in music and acting.
I agree that club basketball and sneaker-company infiltration have helped diminish the skill refinement of the American player.
But I also believe the preps-to-pros critics who generally embrace the development model used for European prospects should remember that Ricky Rubio has been playing professionally since he was 14.