The Hoops And Age Question

By Blair Kerkhoff
Updated: June 23, 2009

NCAA KANSAS CITY — The tune has changed considerably.

In 2006, as college basketball prepared for its first season with the new minimum-age requirement rule for the NBA, the mood was upbeat. After more than a decade of never seeing top talent like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and LeBron James on a campus, stars would return to the college game, if only for one season.

But as the 2009 NBA draft approaches, some of the game’s top coaches say they’re done with one-and-done as beneficial to the college game.

“It’s a bad rule, a really bad rule,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “It makes a mockery of a college education.”

Alleged incidents involving two of college sports’ time-honored sins — academic fraud and illicit payments — have raised the rhetoric on the issue.

Memphis officials recently met with the NCAA to answer charges that somebody took a standardized test required for college entrance for a former player, believed to be Derrick Rose.

O.J. Mayo may have sunk his head coach. Southern California’s Tim Floyd resigned earlier this month after allegations surfaced that he gave $1,000 to a man who helped steer Mayo to the Los Angeles campus.

Rose and Mayo skated off to the NBA after the 2008 season after one year in school. Should they ever have been in college?

“I initially thought making kids go to school was a good thing,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But it can be abused.”

It’s all but assured that Thursday’s draft will be the first since the rule was implemented that a college freshman won’t be selected first and second.

In 2007, Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Texas’ Kevin Durant were the first two taken. Last June, Rose and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley topped the draft.

Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin, who completed his sophomore season, is expected to be selected by the Clippers atop the draft board.

The top-rated freshmen are Memphis guard Tyreke Evans, Southern California guard DeMar DeRozan, Ohio State center B.J. Mullens and UCLA guard Jrue Holiday. All could go in the first round, but none figure to reach the top five.

Some college coaches were calling the new rule at its inception win-win. Schools would benefit from having the game’s brightest young talent on the court and exposed to a university setting and social structure. And the NBA would get a more polished product.

But those intent on leaving after one season can make a charade of the academic mission.

“Unless your athletic department has a (class) attendance policy, all somebody has to do is sign up for classes in the second semester,” Capel said.

“How are those kids getting an education? They’re using college for the wrong reasons.”

Even coaches who have benefited from the rule are having doubts.

“I don’t have a problem with somebody going directly from high school to the NBA,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose 2007 team was led by Durant.

The rule that makes American players ineligible until a year after their high school class graduates and are at least 19 years old was part of the 2005 NBA collective-bargaining agreement, which does not expire until 2011.

Players can avoid college by playing internationally. Last year, Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings took his game to Italy. He’ll probably be taken in the first round Thursday.

This season, Jeremy Tyler, a 6-11 center from San Diego who had committed to Louisville, will skip his senior year in high school to play and get paid in Europe for two years, and then take his shot in the NBA.

At the NBA finals, commissioner David Stern reminded reporters the rule wasn’t passed with college basketball in mind.

“This is not about the NCAA, this is not an enforcement of some social program,” Stern said. “This is a business decision by the NBA, which is we like to see our players in competition after high school.”

Which supports something Capel has believed all along.

“I don’t know how much the NBA cares about college basketball,” he said.

“From an NBA standpoint, it’s free marketing for them. They get to market these kids for a year.”

But the college coaches have at least one ally in the NBA. Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose top two scorers — Howard and Rashard Lewis — bypassed college before the minimum-age standard — ripped the rule.

“I don’t understand how we get away with that as a league, that we tell a guy out of high school that he can’t come and play in our league,” Van Gundy said. “To me, it’s a sham.”

Some would like to see basketball go to a version of baseball’s model. Hundreds of high school kids are drafted and signed, but if a player attends a Division I school, he’s not eligible for the draft for three years or the age of 21 before being drafted again.

“The Kobes, the LeBrons, you have maybe five guys in a 10-year span ready to make an impact in the NBA out of high school,” said former college basketball analyst Billy Packer. “But once a commitment is made to intercollegiate sports and hopefully an education, that commitment should be for three years.”

At least two, coaches say, and raise the minimum age from 19 to 20.

“The very minimum,” Capel said. “There should be an opportunity for high school kids to go to the NBA, but if you go to college, you get at least 1 1/2 years of education. You’re using it the right way, and it would eliminate the guy who doesn’t want to be in college.”