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Copyright 2014 Valley News
Valley News (White River Junction, Vermont)
Brad Townsend The Dallas Morning News

Lexington, Ky. - During his Monday radio show, John Calipari launched into a soliloquy. It wasn't about his Kentucky team's improbable run to the Final Four. Or the Wildcats' prognosis for winning their second championship in three years.

It was about pro basketball's much-maligned "one-and-done" rule - and the perception that Kentucky is the NCAA's poster program for exploiting it by unapologetically recruiting players who fully intend to jump to the NBA after one season.

In reality, Calipari is on record as criticizing the rule, which requires that players can't be drafted into the NBA until they are at least 19 and one year removed from their high school class' graduation.

Calipari and many others want the minimum age raised to at least 20.

It's such a hot-button topic, drawing opinion from Mark Cuban, Barack Obama, Bob Knight, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, among scores of others, that the issue seemingly has reached a tipping point.

Until the rule is changed, possibly as soon as the coming NBA/ college basketball offseason, Calipari at least would like someone to come up with a different name for it.

"I'm on a mission," he said. "How do we change this 'one and done?' Because they've created a negative connotation to 'one-and- done' and tried to tie it to me, even though it's not my rule."

The rule initially was widely welcomed when enacted under Article X, Section I of the NBA's 2005 collective bargaining agreement. Gradually, though, the chorus against it has become so strident and universal that it has cast a haze around college basketball.

How much longer, and effectively, can the college product function under a rule that most of its coaches and administrators - and NBA decision-makers - openly detest?

When Kentucky and its five freshman starters overcame late- season struggles, got hot and toppled three higher-seeded NCAA Tournament opponents, this weekend's Final Four at AT&T Stadium in a sense became a one-and-done referendum.

Three of the teams are led by upperclassmen, particularly Florida with its four senior starters. And unlike many college coaches who have voiced desire to have the minimum draft age raised, Gators coach Billy Donovan last month told the Orlando Sentinel that he would prefer the NBA go back to allowing high school players to go straight into the draft.

"College basketball coaches and programs are taking on all the risks," he said. "The kid doesn't want to be in college and wants to be in the NBA, but because of the rules, he has to stay in college. Now you're opening yourself up for potential NCAA violations."

Donovan referenced elite college programs that are dotted with freshmen projected as 2014 lottery picks, including Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Arizona's Aaron Gordon and possibly even Florida's little-used center Chris Walker. A McDonald's All- American, Walker was suspended for most of this season after it was found that he, his family members and friends accepted air fare, lodging, meals, apparel and other gifts from outside influences, including two sports agents.

"There is so much coming at these kids," Donovan told the Sentinel. "If a kid takes something he's not supposed to take or he is enticed into something, it's the colleges that are put in harm's way."

Focus on Kentucky

Kentucky's approach to the one-and-done issue has been to go all- in. In the last five years, Calipari has had 17 players drafted, 13 of them first-rounders. Thirteen of the draftees were Wildcats for only one season. Of the eight Wildcats who played in Kentucky's 75- 72 Elite Eight victory over Michigan, seven were freshmen, six of them McDonald's All-Americans.

It's projected that at least four of Kentucky's freshmen will be chosen in the first round of June's NBA draft, including Texas native Julius Randle. Whether real or imagined, those within the Kentucky program can't help but feel that this season has had a good- vs.-evil undertone. The Wildcats may as well have a scarlet O on their jerseys.

"I use criticism as motivation," Randle said. "I don't go looking for it. I don't really care what people say. I mean, I know when people are being critical.

"It's just motivation, but it's not my main motivation. I have stuff that drives me internally. It's just added fuel to the fire."

Calipari, whose team traveled to North Texas on Wednesday, is braced for the fresh onslaught of questions and characterizations that await when Final Four news conferences begin. He noted that his team has a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0. He pointed out that history is full of prodigies who completed little or no college, singling out Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tiger Woods. Calipari said all of his players work hard in the classroom, "but they also want to reach their dreams.

"They also are chasing big things. They also have a special talent, like an electrical engineer who is ahead of his time - that he can leave early and they'll hire him without a degree because, 'You are so smart and bright, we want you now.' "

Calipari makes no apologies for producing three Final Four teams in the past four years under rules as they exist.

"I'm just taking care of kids," he said. "I went from the business of basketball to the business of helping families. That's what we do here."

NBA Sought Change

In theory, one-and-done was supposed to help both college and professional basketball. Former NBA commissioner David Stern argued for change during 2005 collective bargaining negotiations between the league and its players union. Stern and NBA owners wanted tothe influx of high school seniors who attempted to jump to the NBA starting in the mid-1990s.

Never mind that more than a few high schoolers made successful transitions, notably Kevin Garnett (1995), Kobe Bryant (1996), Tracy McGrady (1997), LeBron James (2003) and Dwight Howard (2004).

For every star, though, there were several busts. Then there were concerning examples like Leon Smith, a high schooler taken 29th in the first round of the 1999 draft by San Antonio and immediately traded to Dallas.

Emotionally unprepared for the real world, never mind the NBA, Smith swallowed roughly 250 aspirin and spent several weeks in a psychiatric ward. He never played for the Mavericks, and his NBA career consisted of 14 games with Atlanta.

Though an extreme case, the Smith saga reminded that young athletes face potential pitfalls. The NBA is a business first - and who was going to help these guys after basketball, with no education?

On behalf of owners, Stern fought for a minimum draft age of 20. The players union fought back in negotiations, but ultimately settled on 19 as the minimum age, in exchange for more favorable salary cap rules.

Initially, few college coaches publicly complained. For example, Texas coach Rick Barnes was thrilled to be able to coach a player of Kevin Durant's caliber in the 2006-07 season. Durant averaged 25.8 points and Texas retired his jersey soon after he was taken No. 2 in the draft.

Ultimately, though, many college coaches are finding that reloading the roster year after year is not a recipe for continuity. And from the NBA's perspective, adding 19-year-olds to rosters proved as problematic as adding 18-year-olds.

"It is my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league," NBA commissioner Silver said during February's All-Star weekend, days after succeeding Stern. "That's something, as I travel the league, I increasingly hear from our coaches, who feel that many of even the top players in the league could use more time to develop even as leaders as part of college programs."

In order for the rule to be changed, however, an amendment would have to be made to the current collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in December 2011. It's a 10-year agreement with opt-out clauses after six years for both the owners and the players association.

Changes can be made to the existing agreement, but only with the blessing of the owners and the players. The widespread outcry against one-and-done has many predicting change sooner than later.

Mavericks owner Cuban ripped the NCAA for its "hypocrisy" of allowing basketball players to attend school for only half a year as so-called "student-athletes" before jumping to the NBA.

He also suggested that if one-and-done isn't abolished, the NBA should "go after the one" by enhancing its developmental league to create what he believes could be a better basketball and life skills alternative to college.

Hall of Fame coach Knight, who won three national titles at Cuban's alma mater, Indiana, wagged a finger back at the NBA, saying on ESPN Radio that the league "does a tremendous, gigantic disservice to college basketball. It's as though they've raped college basketball, in my opinion."

No Voice for Players

Largely voiceless and utterly powerless in all of this are talented teenage basketball players. As usual, adults will legislate when they can and can't begin to make livelihoods in their chosen profession.

Take the example of Dallas native Randle, 19, who might play his final college game Saturday, when Kentucky faces Wisconsin in a Final Four semifinal.

He hails from the same hometown as golfer Jordan Spieth, who received little criticism for leaving Texas to join the PGA Tour last year at 19. Spieth went on to become rookie of the year and earn $3.8 million. Yet as Randle mostly prepares to follow a similar path, it's with a one-and-done stigma that's become a dirty word in college basketball.

Dallas billionaire Kenny Troutt, who financed the AAU Texas Titans for which Randle played from fifth grade through high school, believes that double standard is unfair. He says the reason he provided all of the Titans with the best basketball training and spiritual guidance was so that they can be the best they can be, on and off the court, in whatever they choose to do. In Randle's case, that's basketball.

As owner of the highly regarded thoroughbred stable Winstar Farm, less than 20 miles from the Kentucky campus, Troutt believes Randle made the best possible choice in playing at Kentucky. Had one-and- done not been in place, it's possible Randle could have gone straight to the NBA.

"I think it's, No. 1, a very high-profile college that gives him a lot of exposure because he wants to play in the NBA, and I think that's been very good for him," Troutt said. "Coach Cal and his staff do a lot of things to help these kids. They've been through these wars of how high-profile everything is.

"I think it was a very, very good fit for him. Julius is most likely one and out. Coach Cal doesn't have a problem with that."

Rules, after all, are rules.

 

April 4, 2014

 

 
 

 

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