I'm of a mixed mind on this issue. It's ridiculous that the NBA doesn't give 18-year-olds a chance to work at the top of their field when clearly, some are qualified. But at the same time, I'm always stunned when I see the list of underclassmen entering the draft. What possessed Dominique Archie, who averaged 10 points a game at South Carolina, or Ater Majok, who never even played at UConn?
In a way, I wonder even more about Jrue Holiday of UCLA and B.J. Mullens of Ohio State, highly touted recruits who basically proved they weren't that good in one season of college play. They'll be drafted, sure, but how often do we see NBA success stories from guys who couldn't even master college ball?
I look at Towson Catholic product Donte Greene and wonder if he's happy with his decision to leave Syracuse last year. Greene was picked in the first round and made $809,000 in 2008-2009, which is obviously fantastic for a first-year worker. On the other hand, he was traded right after the draft, spent time in the D-league and struggled to earn 13 minutes a game for a lousy Sacramento Kings team. He shot 32 percent. He was obviously not ready to help an NBA team, even a bad one.
Greene still has talent and a chance to convert it to further riches. But lots of guys like him get lost in the shuffle. What if he had, instead, returned to Syracuse, led a Final Four team in scoring and pushed himself into the top 5 of a weaker 2009 draft? He would've lost a year of income and exposed himself to a year of unpaid injury risk. But top-5 picks are much less likely to fade away after three uneventful years.
I'm not hurling rah, rah college crap either. Dick Vitale can keep all of his smarmy talk about the irreplaceable value of campus life. I'm saying that in pure economic terms, entering the NBA before you are ready to contribute might be a poor decision.
Maybe Crean is right and a lot of these players aren't giving themselves the best chance to succeed long-term. Maybe they have no one to tell them that $3 million (if the draft works out well) isn't enough to last a lifetime. Maybe they fail to realize that if they can't get it together in three years, there's every chance that the league will discard them for good.
Or maybe it's always a better percentage play to take the upfront money over an uncertain future.
I honestly don't know.
Photos by The Associated Press