Four years ago, when the NBA instituted a 19-year-old age limit, the breathless first thought was to declare it a lifeline for college basketball.
The Superstar has returned to college hoops! No more preps skipping college! Polish Dick Vitale’s head for the show, baby!
After the rule was announced, I called Louisville coach Rick Pitino and had a few “Isn’t this great?” questions. He sighed.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
I figured he’d damaged his brain by blowing his whistle one too many times. Then he offered his reasons for being so guarded, ending with one that’s proving disturbingly correct: Because a generation of kids have grown up figuring college wasn’t necessary to make it to the NBA, it will be a significant challenge to reprogram those who have slacked on academics and failed to develop an appreciation for college athletics.
“In some cases, recruiting some of these kids could present an incredible burden for a program,” Pitino said. “The culture is so different now.”
Four years ago, Pitino seemed like a buzz kill. Now, unfortunately, he’s a prophet.
Derrick Rose — accused of academic fraud. O.J. Mayo — accused of being funded by a street agent. Brandon Jennings — fled to Europe because he couldn’t pass the SAT. Jeremy Tyler (a Pitino recruit) — will pull a Brandon Jennings, except he’s skipping out on his senior year of high school, too.
It seems the age limit is producing as many headaches as memories.
The freshmen in the 2009 draft class represent the third group that couldn’t hop straight from high school to the NBA. The previous two freshman classes have produced 13 of the last 28 lottery picks and the top two overall selections in the 2007 and 2008 drafts.
Rose brought Memphis within a few made free throws of a championship, but several media reports last week indicated the NCAA is investigating him for having an SAT stunt double and changing his high-school transcript. The Tigers might wind up having their Final Four appearance yanked, which seems unfair, but it shows the risk Pitino referred to in recruiting kids who once thought they wouldn’t have to go to college.
USC didn’t even get an NCAA Tournament victory out of Mayo, but he might have a lasting impact. His alleged dealings with a street agent will likely put the blossoming Trojans program on probation.
It was common knowledge that Rose would struggle to pass his SAT, and there are always rumors about stand-in test takers. It was also apparent during Mayo’s high-school days that he had too many hangers-on with shady associations.
In the ridiculously competitive world of college athletics, it’s hard to blame John Calipari or Tim Floyd for pursuing the likes of Rose and Mayo. However, they don’t get to plead ignorance when they make a mistake.
Ultimately, the 19-year-old age limit is a pain. The NBA would better serve colleges — and basketball in general — by implementing a policy similar to baseball’s draft system. Let high-schoolers come out, but if they go to college, they must stay three years. It would mean college loses an even larger number of diaper dandies, but enough talent would remain to keep the college game entertaining and coaches would have a better opportunity to develop their programs the right way.
Until someone stops this mockery, we’ll be left covering our eyes often during this one-and-done era.