Friday, June 25th, 2010 at 1:15 pm  |  26 responses

Cut Me Loose

A timely—and opinionated—piece on the NBA age-minimum rules.

by Christian Waterman

It makes sense to start an argument against the NBA’s age limit with LeBron James. For him to have gone to college, certainly for just a year, would have resulted in nothing more than leaving millions on the table. In 2004, he would again have been the first pick, ahead of fellow jumper Dwight Howard and three-year UConn graduate.

What profit – financial, mental, physical – does an NBA-ready player such as LeBron accrue from a year at the University of ____? The school’Dwight Howards pockets are sure to be lined handsomely, as well as the NCAA’s capitalizing on the athlete’s image. So is it any surprise that these amateurs are taking money and gifts under the table? Sebastian Telfair, from Seaside Projects in the gritty part of Coney Island, sought a better life for his family – solution: sign with Adidas and declare for the Draft.

These players who were once equals, high school legends appearing together on the cover of SLAM 62, are now miles apart in terms of their impact on the League. It’s unfair to say that Bassy should have gone to college because he’s developed in to a serviceable point guard, and spent the end of last season buried on the Cavs’ bench.

The assessment of this exclusionist policy is that it’s unfair, forcing players to go to college, or in recent years, seek an alternative post-secondary route. While many were ready to cast off Brandon Jennings after his mediocre season with Lottomatica Roma, his 55-point roar and march in to the Playoffs proved them categorically wrong, and Young Buck absolutely right. For prospects like Jennings, playing at the professional level is a much better breeding ground than college, because still the competition level in the NCAA is inferior to that on the next level. Players with size, or those with exemplary skill dominate the college game, and that does not necessarily translate (see Morrison, Adam).

And truthfully, what is the point of college basketball at this point? The cream of the crop has been fending off recruiters since their middle school days, and now college ball is more of a business than an amateur sport. After attending a bevy of shoe camps, playing on AAU teams with and against the best in the nation, and with prep schools that churn out stars like Oak Hill, why spend another year on a campus, when the checks are readily available at the next level. The only discernable difference is school itself, but a one-and-done player only has to fulfill one semester of work if he so chooses.

The NBA age limit does deserve some commendation. It’s saved hundreds of kids who would have come in to the League unprepared to handle the demands. A perfect case is Michael Beasley, who’s only recently gotten his act together, although he would have been a top pick out of high school. On the other hand, his year at K-State apparently didn’t teach him anything about not smoking weed at official league functions or how to spend his money. It’s also avoided more horror stories of the ones who don’t make it like Lenny Cooke’s (where art thou Lenny?). Most importantly, and surely a significant factor in implementing the restriction, is the invigoration of the college game as a result of the best players being forced to go to school.

Even the filthiest of programs cannot compete with the complete freedom, riches, and excesses of the NBA life, so the age limit was a godsend for them. Until the coaches realized these players were nothing more than year-long rentals and started crying foul. Several top coaches including Tom Izzo suggest adopting the baseball model — teams drafting players without the convoluted declaration process – conserving their college eligibility and allowing the player to decide following the Draft.

In all, the NBA age limit, while flawed and in need of change, is positive because it gives these players time to develop before making the final step up. For the top prospects, it at least showcases them and hones their image, with John Wall being a relative unknown on the national scene not too long ago. Of course, the League is the ultimate winner here, with a competent screening process before it takes these young men on. Interestingly, Kobe, KG, LeBron, and Dwight Howard, some of the grandest figures of this year’s Playoffs, don’t have any college experience (Not to mention Perk and Andrew Bynum, the youngest NBA player ever.)

I say take off the shackles and allow the ones who are ready to head straight to the League. If the NBA decided to open up the draft pool to all players instead of those who stay in after their cutoff date, once the 60 picks have elapsed, the decision on whether or not to remain at school will be apparent. If I’m a sophomore who hears some good things about my draft stock and stay in to go undrafted, I just threw away two years of eligibility for a future of uncertainty, based off of hearsay from a businessman looking to sign another client. I’d be pissed.

Christian Waterman is a rising sophomore at UMass Amherst, where he is a double major in Sport Management and English. Christian is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, and a die-hard Knicks fan, so life’s rough. Check out more of his work at writethefuture.tumblr.com.

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  • diehard


  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Nice work Christian, thanks.

  • Str8in It Out

    I like the limit. If you want to skip college, you have options. Euro-ball or the D-League. Otherwise, why not hit up college for a semester or two? If nothing else, it gives the best prospects a chance to gain some notoriety, gain some fans and get used to being a public figure. If we could save a lottery bound team the embarrassment of drafting a bust like Kwame Brown, I’m all for it. Kwame shrank in his first yr in the L when he was under so much scrutiny and its not like he has not been a good player. He just wasn’t ever a number 1 pick. Who knows what one yr of school and national attention would have taught him. Play a yr of your best basketball in college for free and that proves to me, a fan, that you love the game enough to take some public criticism and you’re not in it strictly for the cash… like Eddy Curry.

  • Christian Waterman

    So if LeBron had been born in ’90, how unfair would it have been for him to have to put his life on hold for a year to go play ball overseas? Or worse the Rio Grande Valley?

    What I’m getting at in this piece as at the point where these guys are graduating high school, they already have notoriety, and have been public figures for years.

    And @diehard, thanks for your support.

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    Preaching to the choir. How is it that ppl forget amare? And shouldnt teams be held accountable for who they draft? If a team drafts a player and they turn out to be a bust, thy only have themselves to blame all their scouting, contemplating, and planning sucks if they draft a player who isnt ready. Players dont draft themselves.

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    This is all because teams thinking goes like this’ well, he sucks now, no offense, cant pass or catch, too skinny, no defense, but he has long arms and some ppl say he can be good so we will draft him and expect him to be an all star. If he doesnt become great, we can blame his work ethic and desire, even tho we knew he sucked when we drafted him’. The age limit is about protecting teams from their own wild expectations of raw players

  • LD

    A plus would be that certain universities would not be breaking rules to get these players that do not need college.

  • Jose

    Let em play and if they want to go to college let em. i mean i like the 1yr of college for the fact that at least if things work out bad the dude still has a 1yr degree in sumthin. i mean i like it for the education part of it.

  • http://www.springbored.net letsmotor

    agreed with Jose. the education aspect needs to be considered. there are a lot of kids growing up who want to be basketball players, and that’s great. the negative side of that, though, is too many of them get tunnel vision and neglect to consider that it is REALLY hard to make it into the NBA, and that maybe they should give some thought to other professions. but with the age restriction, they’re forced to do that, and at the very least, acquire some knowledge about a certain field so that they’re prepared for a world in which they probably won’t be a pro ball player. the other thing you need to think about is maturity. Kobe is the best player in the NBA right now. LeBron is the second best. Clearly, skipping college didn’t hurt their game, but I think it hurt their maturity. Kobe has definitely matured, but he was a chemistry killer at one point. Phil Jackson even called him “uncoachable.” And LeBron? Great player, and seems like a good teammate, but the guy wears shirts that say “check my stats,” and that’s all you need to know to understand where his maturity level’s at. what about Dwight Howard? You’re going to tell me he couldn’t have used an extra year or two to develop offensively? and what ever happened to just paying your dues? The truth is, young players get spoiled these days. haven’t played an NBA game yet? that’s OK, here’s a multimillion dollar shoe deal. until a few years ago it was: haven’t gone to college and proven you can excel against bigger, better players than the ones you saw in high school? here’s your multimillion dollar NBA contract. i know people will say that it should be the players’ own decision, and that it’s their mistake to make, but let’s face it: they’re children. at 17, 18 years old, you’re still not fully matured, and if they get offered an NBA contract, they will 99% of the time, go for it, and in the end, it won’t always be in their best interest. what the age restriction does is makes the decision for them, and i still don’t see how it hurts. if you’re really that good, you’ll make it (barring some awful injury), and the NBA will be there when they’re ready.

  • Christian Waterman

    Ok @letsmotor, but should the NBA be making the decision for these guys? Stern was seeking a 2 year limit but it got shot down. Would that have been cool? Kobe is unique personality and he’s transformed in a way no college could have ever done for him. LeBron loves LeBron, no school was going to stop him from being pompous. D12? He’s been working with one of the greatest centers in NBA history for a few years now, something’s clearly wrong there. What we have now is a basketball-industrial complex, the players are just the pawns in this web of scouting systems, shoe companies, financiers, and Worldwide Wes.’ What does LeBron’s fashion sense have to do with his maturity btw lol?

  • Trout

    Can anyone else say Kame Brown? These atheletes are but one serious injury away from not playing at all so a little college education might not hurt. Yes the college game may not be as competitive but the players should have a plan b just like the rest of society.

  • http://www.paidtosave.info Dang I’m Nice!!!

    What does going to college for 1yr do for anyone? And for those who say the NBA will be there when u get out of school, well if you majorly suck in college and kill your draft stock, you can go from a lottery pick to a late first-round/ early second-rounder. If anything, college will be there if the NBA doesn’t work out.

  • Hay

    watch “Hoop Dreams”, nuff said

  • http://www.need4sheed.com Tarzan Cooper

    i hope everyone realizes that most of the players esp one and dones,that are good enough to go to the nba, take the easiest coursework possible.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    @ letsmotor: I agree on the education part. However, if a player is good enough to be drafted straight out of high school, what is he going to be needing college for in the first place? I understand it is insanely difficult to make it to the NBA, but isn’t a player who’s been drafted from high school, well, already in the league?

  • http://www.springbored.net letsmotor

    @Christian: this is probably where we disagree: i don’t see a problem with the league making the decision for the players, in fact, i like that idea. like i said, these guys are 17, 18 years old, and i know you probably think that they should be able to make their own choices and mistakes, but i just feel like they’re still too young, and may not have the level head to know what’s best for themselves. you made good points about Kobe, LeBron, and Howard, but still, i don’t see how a few years of college wouldn’t have helped that attitude Kobe had his first few years in the L. if anything, it would’ve just given him a few more years to grow up before entering. and im not criticizing LeBron’s fashion sense lol. just pointing out that when someone wears a shirt like that, it tells you a lot about them. @Teddy-the-Bear: that’s where I see the maturity thing coming into play.

  • Celts Fan

    You guys are missing the point here. An employer has every right to say, “To be eligible for this job, you must ____.” In my sales job, we have to have a bachelor’s degree. Is that unfair? No, that’s what the guy cutting the checks requires.

    The age limit’s in place to save teams from themselves and for the fans. For every LeBron, there are Eddy Currys, or Corleone Young (remember him? No? Exactly.) It’s not fair to a team’s fans to draft a HS guy. While the RARE FEW become studs in a year or 2, most take 3 or 4 years if ever. By drafting a HS guy, you tell your fans, “We may be damn good in 5 years, but we’re still charging you full price next year to watch an 18 year old who probably will barely play and look lost when he does.” Since most of the guys that come straight from HS have the tools, you are compelled to draft them or look foolish if you don’t, then that guy becomes a star later on, but if you miss, you set your team back years and alienate the fans and cost yourself millions of dollars. Also, by forcing guys to go to school for at least a year, you build up a following so the names actually mean something and the casual fan (aka people that don’t read sites like this and post on these boards) actually have an opinion which makes that guy worth more $$$ to a team and to a shoe company, which gets fans excited, which sells more tickets which makes the league healthier. It will also make the quality of play better since you’re not getting unpolished guys drafted strictly on potential that you’re watching run around w/ their head cut off looking like they’ve never played ball at a high level before. It’s completely fair for the league to say, “To play here, you’ve got to prove yourself against the highest level of competition there is under this.” If guys don’t want to go to school, there are options to get paid, either here in the DLeague or getting big $$$ overseas (Jennings made a cool half a mil, right?) BUT that year of college can actually save guys from themselves too. Guys could go there, see that after 1 year they’re not as good as they thought they were and stick around and develop their game. Brandon Roy did just that. He declared in HS, then took it back, went to UW and realized he wasn’t as good as he thought and fell in love with being in college (who here didn’t LOVE college. Best 5 years of my life lol) After sticking around 4 years, he came out and is a star now. He openly says he never woulda stuck in the NBA if he had come out straight outta school. Patrick Patterson’s another good example. Eahc of his 3 years in school he developed more and more and got his degree in 3 years. Now he’s a can’t-miss rotation guy at worst who plays hard, rebounds like crazy, and now has a money jumper. The guys that don’t wanna be there will take joke classes (whatever, for them it’s a 1 year internship to prove they belong against that talent level then head to the NBA while building up some hype to at least give fans an opinion on them to help make the multi-million$ they get worth it) but some guys will fall in love w/ school and get a degree so they can do things w/ their $$$ after the NBA and never become Antoine Walker or, more importantly, if ball doesn’t work out, they can get a 9-5 and make it in the world instead of being back wherever they came from, bitter and broke, without any options.

    I like the age limit. If you don’t wanna go to school, go get paid in Europe or play in the DLeague. If you can’t get $$$ to play at that level, you never should be thinking of skipping school anyway…

  • http://www.springbored.net letsmotor

    good point, Celts fan. also, I should’ve said this in one of my earlier posts, but it really is a good article, Christian. thanks for helping spark an interesting debate.

  • Christian Waterman

    ‘An employer has every right to say, “To be eligible for this job, you must ____.”’

    Good point..

    But what’s happening to a kid that’s set on finishing high school and ready for the league:

    Ok you either have to go to college, displace yourself to go pro overseas, or play in our d-league (a bit self-serving on Stern’s part, eh?).

    Guys want to come out of high school because the NBA has been their lifelong dream..and they’re being influenced by “experts” commenting on their draft stock, which is usually convoluted bs.

    Maybe a new Hoop Dreams is in order because it’s really night and day when you think about the problems faced by prep stars then and now.

    And thanks letsmotor.

  • http://Yahoo Dwayne Daniels

    Leave it to the person to choose college or not,college is not for everyone,and who is to say,if a person is going to benefit by that experience.Its only in the sports that has a higher percentage of inner city kids,that we hear,oh,these kids should go to school,but the young tennis,golf,and even soccor players,can start young, not to mention the young baseball player that if I read and listened correct,took the g.e.d and skipped the rest of high school to persue baseball.I never hear that the young white girl should go to college instead of playing for pay,oh no she is a phenom!!Let it be across the board. If we are going to set an age requirement for the young nba prospects,than lets make the requirement for all the young entertainers.

  • papa

    i dont like the limit cos 1. if you’re 18 you’re legally allowed to work right?
    2. it doesnt actually make kids want to go to college to learn, they just do it cos they have to so if they go for a year and become a one and done, they dont have anything to fall back on apart from a high school degree and a semester or so of college classes
    3. the league and scouts always stress players not being mature or whatever, but when they stay in college more than one year (or do the unthinkable and graduate) then they become too old and unattractive, even though they become better players than they were as freshmen, and dont get drafted (scottie reynolds??)
    i could go on, but my point is, the age restriction is stupid

  • R2J

    I look at it like this. There are some players that went one and done that managed to survive and keep playing for their respective teams. While there are other one and dones that haven’t panned out so well. I think if you’re good enough then go pro, if not then stay your a** in school. Don’t leave if you’re not ready for 82 games.

  • splash

    I see the main issue that we are facing here is not the NBA’s age limit, but the lack of a good farm system for professional players.

    The MLB and NHL have great farm systems, with hundreds of teams around the continent. Hockey, especially, is notorious for signing 15 and 16 year old kids to minor league contracts.

    In baseball and hockey, there are a very large number of players who are developed in the minors and brought up to the majors.

    Football and basketball have no such equivalent; at least not traditionally. In football, college is THE way to develop for the NFL. Virtually nobody plays without spending time at the college level.

    Basketball is an altogether different beast. Some exceptionally talented players are ready to play in the NBA when they’re just 17 or 18, but most take a few more years to develop.

    If the NBA had a legitimate developmental league, (which the D-League is supposedly becoming) good players would feel comfortable playing at the lower levels and being brought along slowly. It’s to the NBA’s detriment that they sign one-and-done players to multi-year guaranteed contracts because it is a big risk putting up all of that money for an unproven commodity. The current system works to the short-term benefit of players because they can make millions even though they never see the floor (Adam Morrison) but this system is bad for the game.

    I think the NBA should do away with the amateur draft. Instead, they should call up players from the D-leagues. Those leagues in turn would do the signing of amateur players. There would be much less risk for the NBA with this kind of system. The NCAA should not be used as the primary farm system for professional basketball. It works for football, but not hoops.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    People who are against the minimum age: hippies.

  • Dyce

    I dont get the rule of going to college one year. Where is the outrage in 18 year olds being able to sign up for the military (17 with parental permission)??? I dont see wrong with an 18 year old going to the NBA making millions even if he is a bust after his first rookie contract, he’s what 21 years old? A lot of adults who after they messed up took some time off, got pregnant etc…. enter college at that age and lead productive lives. These kids made millions and with any sense could have a little bit saved and still gives them a head start on life.

  • http://Yahoo Dwayne Daniels

    Dyce understands and gets it, Michael Nz doesnt so I guess Iam a hippie, but last I checked in america, where they stick you in a war at 18, and you can get your head blown off but if you want to make a living in the NBA, you need to wait a year, oh please stop with the b.s. Let these guys make a living, just like the young actors, tennis plyers,etc.We are talking entertainment, not brain surgery!!!