It’s Time to Put Basketball Back In the Blender
By Max Toth
NCAA basketball is dying.
Gone are the record-shattering days of John Wooden and Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at UCLA, or the youthful exuberance and excitement of Michigan’s famous “Fab Five.”
Today, we‘re in a new era of basketball where the pool of top high school prospects are saying “no” to the NCAA in numbers we haven’t seen since the NBA allowed them to be drafted straight out of grade twelve. This recent phenomenon began when five-star recruit R.J. Hampton chose to sign with the Australian and New Zealand based NBL, passing on schools such as Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech. Why would Hampton, who’s projected to be a mid-first round pick in this years draft, choose to pass up on the chance to play for a premier college program and perhaps win a national championship?
“My dream has never been to play college basketball,” he said the day he announced his signing. “My dream was always to get to the next level and play in the NBA.”
Hampton was followed by number one recruit Jalen Green, who along with fellow top prospects Isaiah Todd and Kai Sotto joined the new G League Development Program for a reported $500k salary. Fortunately for the NCAA, they have retained Oklahoma State University commit Cade Cunningham, the projected number one pick in the 2021 draft. Unfortunately for the NCAA, Cunningham and his Cowboys won’t be participating in next years March Madness tournament, as OSU received a 2021 tournament ban for paying basketball recruits.
But therein lies the major problem.
Unfortunately, many top-tier NCAA athletes could be receiving illegal compensation from big money boosters or from the school itself. So why would a young player decide to go to college and be paid illegally when they can go to a team overseas or the G league development program, which would likely better prepare them for the NBA?
A college degree?
Let’s get real; they’re only staying for one measly year. Plus, you can always go back to college. We’ve seen NBA stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Vince Carter return to school following, or sometimes even during, their NBA careers. The only thing the NCAA owns nowadays is the historical pedigree of college basketball - blue blood schools such as Duke and North Carolina, legendary coaches like Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari and, of course, the pomp and pageantry of March Madness. But despite all those features, most kids growing up in the “one and done” era don’t really dream about college hoops anymore. For evidence, all you have to do is climb back up to that R.J. Hampton quote.
It’s only a matter of time before the NBA once again allows high school players to enter the draft. But the truth is, that might be the best thing for the NCAA. Players who value the true student-athlete experience will become the stars of the college game again, as opposed to guys who see it as just a stepping stone to the NBA. By foregoing college, ultra-talented ballers like R.J. Hampton can focus on honing their skills without pretending to be interested in a school’s fight song. Meanwhile, true collegiate athletes can once again take centre stage and develop their skills by spending four years with some of the top coaching wizards in the game.
In the end, we could see the best of both worlds. Basketball savants such as the “straight outta high school” LeBron James, and a player like Damian Lillard who honed his amazing last second game winners by playing, and staying, at Weber State for all four years.
In fact, you could call it a “win-win.....win” situation.
Young phenoms get an early chance to strut their stuff, veteran collegiate players get more time to develop, and sports fans get to sit back and enjoy an awesome blend of basketball talent.