The NCAA's recent legislation giving underclassmen a chance to explore their earning potential in the NBA without losing their college eligibility is going to create havoc later this year for coaches, players, pro scouts and even agents.
The rule states that a player who files for early eligibility with the NBA has a 30-day window to check out his options before deciding whether to return to campus. It is a one-time deal, but it might not be a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
"The way it is written," says former Maryland star Len Elmore, an attorney who now runs a sports management company, "could create a whole Pandora's box of problems."
It has already.
Problem No. 1: Coaches will have to constantly remind promising freshmen and sophomores about not signing so much as a cocktail napkin for fear that some unscrupulous wannabe agent will have it attached to a personal services contract, as happened to Alabama football player Antonio Langham at last year's post-Sugar Bowl celebration.
Problem No. 2: Players might leave this year, trying to get their first NBA contract before the proposed salary cap for rookies is imposed. But in some cases, their earning potential will increase for the long term if they choose to stay in school. Compare Maryland's Jerrod Mustaf, who left after his sophomore year, to Walt Williams, who stayed for four. Watch who has a longer, and more prosperous, NBA career.
Problem No. 3: Pro scouts must now look at players who before were considered one, two and even three years away. There were nearly a dozen scouts at the Maryland-Clemson game Wednesday night because of two potential lottery picks as underclassmen, Terps center Joe Smith and Tigers center Sharone Wright.
"It took us all by surprise," Washington Bullets general manager John Nash said of the rule, which was passed without much discussion, and even less opposition, at the recent NCAA convention in San Antonio. "It's going to put a lot of pressure on these kids, especially in that month after the draft. They can't have agents until they sign, so who are they going to listen to?"
While the NCAA's motivation was to enable players to make smarter decisions and possibly help increase graduation rates -- and 76 percent of the Division I-A coaches who answered an NCAA survey supported it -- Elmore and others are concerned that it will lead to 18- and 19-year-olds losing their college eligibility as a result of signing with agents, without understanding the ramifications of such a move.
"We've got the makings for some obscene exploitation," said Elmore.
Elmore has been through the process on several levels: as a star coming out of Maryland at the height of the ABA-NBA salary wars in the mid-1970s, as a pro player for more than a decade and now as an agent for several recent No. 1 draft picks, including Walt Williams.
"A lot of these kids are not ready,"said Elmore. "They may be ready physically, but they're not ready emotionally. But in pursuit of the almighty dollar, you're going to have people filling a kid's head with what actually might become reality, but what's not reality now."
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who is monitoring the situation in regard to Smith: "It might be good for the one kid who's going to be a lottery pick, but how about for the other 12 scholarship players on your team? It hurts them, because if that one player leaves, they might not be able to get the most of what for many will be their last playing experience."
Bob Oliver, a director of legislative services for the NCAA, said yesterday that the NCAA's Professional Sports Liaison Committee did extensive research before proposing the rule to its membership.
But Oliver added: "Like a lot of new rules, there are things that are up in the air. What are the idiosyncrasies that we haven't thought about?"
The intentions of the rule might be good, but it certainly opens the door for people with less than honorable intentions.
Rising star from Tel Aviv
While Connecticut junior Donyell Marshall is getting some attention for Player of the Year -- Purdue's Glenn Robinson doesn't have it locked up yet -- there are some up in Storrs who believe the Huskies' return to prominence has a lot to do with the arrival of freshman guards Doron Sheffer and Ray Allen.
Sheffer, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Tel Aviv, is averaging 11.5 points. Allen, a 6-5 guard from South Carolina, is scoring 14.1 points off the bench. Sheffer also is reviving memories of Nadav Henefeld, who came from Israel to play for the Huskies in 1989-90 and helped them reach the Final Eight before losing on a last-second shot to Duke.
Sheffer has similar scoring stats to Henefeld, but is a better long-range shooter. Evidence to that is his 30 of 64 three-point shooting, including 17 of 30 in seven Big East games. But the rest of his game is as well-rounded as Henefeld's, who set a freshman record for steals (138) before returning to Israel to play professionally.
"His [Sheffer's] strength No. 1 is his understanding of basketball," said Jim Calhoun, whose Huskies are off to a 17-1 start, are up to No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and are being touted as a Final Four team. "Every dribble, every pass, every move is designed to draw people and also to find people. He goes about scanning the court as well as any kid I've seen in an awful long time. Doron understands how to play basketball and he transmits that to his teammates."
Stat of the week
VCU point guard Kenny Harris has hit a three-point shot in 32 straight games. This is the same player who transferred after his sophomore year at North Carolina when it became obvious he didn't fit into Dean Smith's system. Do you think the Tar Heels, who lack outside shooting with Donald Williams injured, could use Harris now? He had 16 assists in a win over Oklahoma last week and is averaging 14.5 a game for VCU, now 10-5.