Much has been discussed and debated about the so-called one-and-done era in college basketball. Based on the NBA mandate that players must be at least one year out of high school before they can enter the NBA draft, the result is often players enrolling in college for a matter of months, before jumping to the professional ranks.
People have argued, ad nauseam, whether it is good for college basketball or good for the NBA. Occasionally, you’ll even hear a discussion as to the rule’s direct impact on the players whose lives are impacted by the rule.
Regardless of your take on the rule or the era, it is clear that one and done puts pressure on the top high school basketball players in the country. And that pressure stays with them throughout their time spent in college, brief or not.
Last week, I got the chance to see and hear it up close, while covering Michael Jordan’s Jordan Brand Classic, a high school all-star game that features 24 of the top high school basketball players in the country.
While most of the players predictably stated that they did not personally feel pressure to be one-and-done players, all acknowledged that there is immense pressure, generally. Whether it be financial pressure, professional pressure, peer pressure or simply competitive pressure, the pressure is there.
Mohamed Bamba, a 6-foot 11-inch Center out of Westtown School, considering Duke, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas, gave the typical answer from these high school superstars when asked if there was pressure to be a one-and-done player at the next level.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Guys get on campus, and they set a mental timeline or mental stopwatch in their mind, like ‘alright, I gotta get out in eight months, I gotta get out in eight months.’” However, Bamba, like most others, argued that he was different. “But, that’s not really my attitude towards it. Worst-case scenario is a second year in college, which is pretty sweet.”
It was telling that Bamba’s worst-case scenario only included a second year of college and not a third or, heaven forbid, a fourth year. So, while he said that the one-and-done pressure wouldn’t have an impact on him, it is clear it already has. He could not fathom a third or fourth year of development in college, which, of course, used to be routine for college stars “back in the day” like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan.
But, it’s a new day, as we know. Society is more money-driven, and nowhere is that more evident than in the National Basketball Association. Because of the enormous amount of money at stake and recent collective bargaining agreements that have capped and staggered rookie contracts, sports agents, families and the athletes themselves have sought to maximize a player’s earnings. They rush the process so that players can potentially sign maximum NBA contracts earlier in their lives and careers.
Why stay four years in college (while not being paid), be a rookie at 22 years of age and eligible for a larger contract at 25, when you can enter the NBA at 19 and receive a lucrative contract as early as 22?
That question seems like an easy one, until you realize that many young men still develop at normal rates — as in three or four years after high school, like they used to.
The answer to that conundrum seems simple, as well: the players who need more time to develop should simply stay in school for longer. But, that has been happening less and less, and the reason isn’t always about financial need.
“Obviously, every kid’s dream is to be one and done,” said 6’2″ Oklahoma-bound point guard Trae Young.
Exactly, it is every kid’s dream to be the best and in today’s era, the best high school basketball players are one and dones. Young is a very good young point guard who could surely develop into a solid pro prospect, but he does not jump out at you as a “one and done.”
I asked him if he had to block all of the one-and-done talk and thoughts out of his mind. “Yeah,” he replied. “You got to, or you’ll end up being [in school] forever, and you’ll never get to achieve your dream if [one and done] is your main goal.”
By “forever” I’m assuming he means four years, which shouldn’t be considered such a horrible thing. Of course, he could still realize his NBA dream after four years of college, just ask Damian Lillard and Draymond Green, to name a couple. Both of those guys came into the NBA immediately ready to contribute. Four years of physical and, more importantly, mental development, played a major role in their success.
This is not to diminish those who declare early for the NBA draft. Many times, the decision to leave after one or two years in college is absolutely the correct decision. When financial need is great or a player’s stock is at its highest or high enough, leaving college and declaring for the draft is almost impossible to argue against. Moreover, risking injury and passing up virtually guaranteed money is rarely a smart move.
Unfortunately, more and more players have been passing up years of college eligibility when their professional prospects don’t warrant such a move. According to a Forbes.com article by Blake Williams in 2016, 30 college underclassmen went undrafted in 2016’s NBA draft — this despite the NCAA’s new rule that allows underclassmen to go through the NBA’s combine, workout for one NBA team, receive feedback, withdraw from the draft and return to school, provided the player does not hire an agent.
This misguided trend will continue regardless of NBA feedback because the one-and-done dream is hard for most players to successfully block out. Especially, when players who you may have grown up playing against, who were once ranked below you, are now passing you by into the NBA draft.
“You just want to be the best out of everybody,” Brandon McCoy said. McCoy is a 6’11″ senior out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, considering Oregon, Arizona, UNLV, San Diego State and Michigan State as his college destination.
“I don’t know how other people might say it is,” McCoy continued. “But I don’t want nobody to say they’re better than me, I don’t want nobody to show they’re better than me, so that competitiveness kicks in.”
Perhaps, the most measured answer to the one-and-done question came from the player most likely to be one and done. Michael Porter Jr. is the consensus number-one high school player in the country, a 6’10″ do-it-all small forward heading to Missouri.
I asked him if he could even fathom being at Missouri for more than one year. “Yeah, I can,” he responded. “It’s not out of the question. I mean, the money will always be there. I’m one of those guys who likes to live step by step. College is a great experience. I don’t want to rush my life. If things didn’t go as well in college as I wanted, I would come back and do another year.”
There may be certain circumstances that require “rushing your life.” But they are few and far between, even for today’s college athletes, who often come from humble beginnings. While rushing may in some cases get you fast money that can surely help, moving at one’s own pace and developing a stronger game and more confidence at the college level can be a more solid foundation that can translate to more sustained success at the NBA level.
There are plenty of issues with the NCAA and the recognized exploitation of unpaid laborers in the major sports. But, if those institutions are willing to use athletes for as little as one semester, the athletes should, in turn, use those institutions to be properly prepared for the next chapter of their lives, whether it be for one, two, three or even four years.
All of the kids I spoke to understand this, but it isn’t so easy to block out the perception of failure in not being part of the one-and-done crowd. That perception often comes from fans, media, NBA scouts and executives and even college coaches.
Here’s to hoping that we can all come to our senses and let kids develop at their own pace, rather than help them hastily throw themselves to the wolves.
Jamal Murphy is a contributor to CBS Local. He writes extensively about college basketball, the NBA and other sports, often focusing on the intersection of sports and social justice/awareness. Listen to Jamal on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast (iTunes & Soundcloud) that he cohosts with legendary sports columnist, Bill Rhoden. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @Blacketologist.