A Few More Thoughts on Brandon Jennings

Saw this today, and I smiled. I smiled because I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to distract me from getting actual work done today, and now I do.

The story, for those too lazy to click on the link, is headlined “Lute Olson Says He’s Done With ‘One and Done’ Players.” Hard to blame him, I guess, seeing as how that ungrateful, misguided young whippersnapper Brandon Jennings (aka “None & Done,” which I really hope he gets tattooed across his back before he leaves for Europe) totally reneged on his commitment to play for Lute’s Wildcats next season. I have sympathy for these college coaches, whose employment hinges largely on the whims of 17- and 18-year-old kids who are A) only looking out for themselves, B) don’t always know what’s best for them, and C) often have shady people with ulterior motives whispering in their ears. It’s a tough job, coaching Division 1 college basketball.

I could, of course, go on a rant about how if these coaches cared so much about teaching (like they all claim to) and a bit less about winning and making sh*tloads of money (which they tend not to bring up), they’d go coach in NAIA or something. But I won’t.


Here’s what Lute and I can agree on: The one-and-done rule is a “farce.” Where we don’t agree is on WHY it’s a farce, and what to do about it.

Lute thinks it’s a farce for the same reasons most college coaches think it’s a farce, because it makes their jobs harder by taking away what they believe is rightly theirs: The “right” to pimp the best young basketball players in America for fun and profit before releasing those players to actually go make a living.

I think it’s a farce because it’s hypocritical, immoral, and unfair (and maybe even unconstitutional!) That’s just me.

So what to do about it? Here’s what Lute thinks:

Olson suggests that elite prep players be given a choice: opt to declare for the NBA draft immediately after high school, or be committed to spending a minimum of two years (Olson would prefer three) in college.

More limitations on what players can and can’t do? That’s a great idea! Except for the, like, 800 reasons it’s not. Here are four of them:

-Isn’t the idea of old, rich (and mostly white) people restricting when and how young, often poor (and mostly black) players can begin earning a living playing basketball the reason we’re in this mess in the first place?

-Did you know (I’m betting Lute does!) that NCAA scholarships are awarded on a year-to-year basis? Student-athletes don’t really get “four-year” rides — they get one-year rides that can be renewed or rescinded at a coach’s discretion. So what ol’ Lute proposes is locking a kid into a multi-year commitment at an institution that won’t commit to the kid for more than one year at a time — all to play for a coach who has a guaranteed contract he can back out of whenever a better offer comes along! I don’t know what that’s called, but it’s frickin’ AWESOME.

-Along those lines, do you think Lute would be open to having to “commit” to the University of Arizona in such a way that he might, say, have to forfeit his entire contract, or be forbidden from coaching at another school, if he decided to leave early? I’m gonna guess no.

-You think Lute would happily let one of his players take a year off, with essentially no warning, for unspecified and murkily explained “personal reasons,” then come back and reclaim his starting spot with no questions asked? Because that’s pretty much EXACTLY what Lute himself did last year! Coaches get to call it a “hiatus.” Again, I call it “awesome.”

But back to this L.A. Times story, which at this point I’m pretty much breaking down paragraph by paragraph (you’re welcome). Lute also bemoans the one-and-done departure of Jerryd Bayless, the freshman guard who was drafted last month. To quote the Hall of Fame coach:

“Jerryd said all along he wanted to stay here two years,” Olson said. “But then you get the agents working on the kids and parents all year. You might have the kid in your controlled environment for some time, but when [outsiders are] on the parents, you have no idea what’s going on.”

But wait—there’s more!

Olson said the hits to Arizona’s roster culminates a scene he forecast when the NBA and its players’ union agreed to allow one-and-done after the 2005 season.

“We said at the time it’d be a disaster, that agents would be swarming all over — not only over these kids, but their parents — telling them the kid needed to score a ton of points in the one year and get out,” Olson. “I’m not saying that’s the case in every situation, but you’ve already seen the danger. What we predicted is happening. This is agent-driven, and it’s a horrible rule.”

All fair points. Um, sort of. Can we assume a couple things here, Lute?

Can we assume that, even if he’d never met or heard from an agent, Jerryd Bayless might’ve been able to ascertain that he was a first-round draft pick after just one year of college?

Can we assume that these evil agents — some of whom are in fact evil, no doubt — have actually been around forever in some form or another, and that they have been and always will be trying to influence players no matter how long you try to keep those players locked down?

Can we assume that one of the reasons a lot of these evil agents do so well for themselves is that they align themselves with prominent college coaches, who steer players toward agents they “trust”?

Can we assume that you, in fact, have an agent?

Can we assume that lots of prominent college coaches have relationships with runners — “street agents,” as the phrase goes — who help direct high school talent to their programs?

Can we assume that “controlled environment” you speak of is code for a magical land called Tucson, where you’re the saintly father figure looking out of the best interests of your student-athletes, who toil for the cost of a scholarship (one that doesn’t cover a few grand a year in expenses, mind you) while you rake in millions in salary and endorsements?

Can we, finally, assume that agents are people who try to get young basketball players to make decisions that will make them (the agents) rich, which might also be considered an accurate definition of YOUR job?

I think we can assume all of this.

Oh, and here’s a theoretical: Let’s say I was about to interview a high school player. Wouldn’t it be crazy if one of your assistant coaches had called me, unsolicited, and asked if I’d give that player the impression that your program had encouraged Slam to feature him in our magazine? I think it would be crazy, if it had happened. Which I’m not saying it did. Obviously.

Anyway, the story ends on a somewhat encouraging note—encouraging in that it implies many of Lute’s prominent peers are coming at this issue from a more rational place. Like Jim Boeheim:

Asked if he too would follow Olson’s disregard for “one-and-done” candidates, Boeheim asked, “Are you crazy?” and cast doubt on the seriousness of Olson’s claim.

That’s what I’M saying! Oh—sorry to interrupt, coach.

“We don’t know who’s going to go,” Boeheim said. “You try to get the best 11 players you can. Guys will leave . . . it’s a fact of life . . . but you still have 10 guys. When we recruit, we try to get the best one we can and hope he’s good enough to win you a national championship, like Carmelo Anthony. But you have to be prepared for guys leaving, like Carmelo did.”

Carmelo Anthony. Totally forgot about him! He was good at basketball.

Here’s another coach who seems capable of making sense:

USC Coach Tim Floyd said despite the short-term stay of star guard Mayo this past season, the player “did a lot for our program, and if we had an opportunity to sign O.J. or a great talent like him again, we would.

“These guys didn’t design the rules, the NBA did. I advocate letting the kid go straight to the NBA if he wants, but we won’t model this thing. The NBA will.”

Then there’s Tubby Smith, who says… this:

“The NBA and college basketball continue to prosper, but we’ve got to be careful and make sure we’re doing our best to monitor the kids’ best interest.”

Which can be taken all sorts of ways. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to any grown man who goes by “Tubby,” so I’ll assume he means well.

I have no beef with Lute Olson, and I can imagine the frustration of spending so much time and money recruiting a kid, only to see him bail on you at the last second. But Brandon Jennings wouldn’t have made this decision if the NBA and NCAA didn’t have such a horsesh*t system that’s meant to protect their interests while making guys like Lute Olson rich with zero regard for the welfare of kids like Jennings. I’m guessing Lute’s been a part of the system so long that this doesn’t even occur to him. Maybe now it will. But probably not.