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John Feinstein Blog: College Basketball No Longer Special Thanks To One-And-Dones

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(Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The hype-masters were out in force on Tuesday night in Chicago. If you heard about how “special,” this season’s college basketball freshman class was once, you heard about it 100 times.

Different masters of hype took turns drooling over Kentucky’s Julius Randle and his freshman teammates; Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins and his fellow frosh and Duke’s Jabari Parker, whose classmates are merely good players who may actually have to go through the torture of returning to college for a second year.

Of course the hype-masters barely noticed that the best team in The United Center — a proper venue for what was an NBA draft audition — was Michigan State, which has to settle for having tough-minded, veteran players and a future Hall of Fame coach.

The public relations machine that is the TV networks and the big-name coaches and many in the basketball media, will tell you that the one-and-done rule is a good thing because it means that players like Randle, Wiggins and Parker will at least make a one-season cameo in college uniforms and that’s good for the college game.

Being honest, I bought into that line of thinking once. When the rule was first passed seven seasons ago, I thought watching Derrick Rose in a Memphis uniform or Kevin Love in a UCLA uniform for one season was better than having them go directly from high school to the pro game. I even thought there might be something to all the drivel about how good it was to “expose,” these guys to a year of college before they headed for the NBA.

Boy was I wrong. All Rose did was get Memphis’s trip to the national championship game in 2008 vacated because someone decided he needed some help with his SAT’s in order to be eligible for one college season. Rose got caught — not punished in any way, but caught. How many other one-and-dones do you think have done the same thing or something similar to make sure they spend their one college season on the court as opposed to, say, inside the classroom? Plenty. They just haven’t been caught — yet.

If you want to be a professional basketball player and, like Randle, Wiggins and Parker you are plenty good enough to do it coming out of high school, go do it. If it doesn’t work out for some reason, they will  have plenty of money to go to college if they decide that’s the next road they want to go down.

I’m a Duke graduate. Personally, I take no joy in seeing Parker in a Duke uniform. He’s never going to get a degree and — being fair — he’s not going to need one. When I see hype coming out of Duke about the accomplishments of “Duke alumni,” like Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers, Luol Deng and Corey Maggette, I blanche. None ever made it back to Duke for a second year. I don’t blame any of them for taking the money when it was there but I also don’t think Duke should be taking credit — or blame — for any of them either.

This isn’t about whether players, ‘get their education.’ I have no issues with John Calipari using the ‘one-and-done,’ rule to build his program at Kentucky because, as he points out, he didn’t make the rule, he’s just taking advantage of it. But I want to throw up whenever I hear Calipari — or any of these coaches — refer to his players as ‘student-athletes.’ Just call them basketball players because that’s what they are and what they’re training to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, whose one skill is his ability to blame everyone else for his shortcomings, points the finger at the NBA and — correctly — points out that ‘one-and-done,’ is an NBA rule, part of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players. Neither side seems inclined to go back to the bargaining table to change the rule anytime soon. The league asked for a two-year waiting period, the players were only willing to make it one.

Okay, fine. But as outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern points out, there are things the colleges can do if they really are concerned with the fact that they are signing players up to be, “students for one semester,” which is an accurate description of ‘one-and-done.’

“Go back to allowing players to play for a maximum of three years,” Stern said this past Monday. “Let them use their freshman year, like in the old days, to get their feet under them academically and become real students. If they choose not to do that, they’re welcome to come and play in the NBA-DL. Our age limit there is 18. We might not pay them quite as well as the colleges do, but we would pay them.”

Stern doesn’t mind taking semi-tongue-in-cheek shots at the so-called leaders of the college game. He points out that presidents could easily avoid the embarrassment of the one-semester player by simply telling their coaches not to recruit players they know will only stay one year. Of course that won’t happen because those same presidents won’t hesitate to turn around and fire the coach who doesn’t recruit one-and-dones for not winning enough. Calipari’s entire program is built around one-and-dones. Imagine the reaction in Kansas if Bill Self had said ‘no-thanks,’ to Wiggins because he knew he was only going to have him for a year.

Krzyzewski actually swore off one-and-dones for a while after Luol Deng left in 2004 after one year and Shaun Livingston, after committing to Duke, turned pro. He then went six years without a Final Four trip and started to recruit them again.

Interestingly, none of Krzyzewski’s four national championship teams had a one-and-done player. The only two freshmen who started on those teams were Grant Hill (1991) and Chris Duhon (2001). Both were four-year players.

Was it entertaining to watch the hyped-freshmen play in Chicago on Tuesday night? Sure. But I wish they were all in the NBA right now. All four of the teams that played would still be contenders and would still have very good players in uniform. The four coaches would all still be very good at what they do.

What made college basketball special years ago was the notion that you could watch a player grow — both on the court and off it — from freshman year to senior year or, at least junior year. Michael Jordan was a completely different player and person as a junior than he was a freshman. Grant Hill was spectacular as a freshman, but couldn’t hit the rim from outside five-feet. As a senior, he was a reliable three-point shooter.

Stern’s right. If the colleges had any backbone at all, they’d make freshmen ineligible. Let those who are gifted and ONLY want to play basketball play in the NBA-DL for a year or overseas. Let those who want to play basketball and, perhaps get a college degree along the way, play college basketball. The game will be just fine and it won’t be dominated by mercenaries passing through because a rule says they have to.

One last thing: the best ending on Tuesday night was in Charlottesville where VCU came from behind to beat Virginia on a three-point shot from way beyond the arc by Treveon Graham with 1.1 seconds left.

Graham, in case you missed it, is a junior.

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