It’s a widespread complaint these days that college basketball is broken – that the games have bogged down to a forty-minute scrum, plagued by bad shooting, inexperienced players, constant fouling and endless timeouts. By the numbers, there’s certainly some truth in this.
One very popular explanation for this is that, as Dick Vitale trilled on Mike and Mike yesterday, that the “one-and-done” have made a “joke” of the sport. To Vitale’s credit, he believes the players should have the right to go straight to the NBA from high school. But his main concern, of course, is the college game itself, his abiding love and passion. And he’s not alone in making this charge – the presence of one-and-done players is, according to many, the number one cause of the poor play currently on display.
I confess – I don’t understand the argument at all.
First, it’s worth remembering that only a handful of players every year stay in college for one season before entering the NBA draft. In 2014, for example, according to this wikipedia page, 11 freshmen made themselves available for the draft.
Remember that there are about 350 teams in Division I men’s basketball (and two of the eleven players on the list did not come from Division I schools). That’s about 5,000 players. It would be quite a stretch, wouldn’t it, to argue that those eleven players were, somehow, responsible for the quality of play in college basketball.
But the argument is even weirder than that. For Vitale’s claim to make sense, he’d have to believe that the sport would be better off if the following players never went to college at all: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and so on. This makes no sense at all.
If we look at this year’s Final Four, Duke has three freshmen starters: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. All three are projected first round picks, with Okafor the expected first overall and both Okafor and Winslow very likely candidates to be one-and-done. Are these the players Vitale believes have turned college basketball into a “joke”? Kentucky, of course, has its usual bounty of freshmen sensations, including Karl Anthony-Towns, the dominant player in Saturday night’s thrilling win against Notre Dame. Would college basketball be better off if Towns had never set foot in Lexington? Towns is almost certainly a one-and-doner.
Of course, the complaint is necessarily logically broader – that freshmen themselves undermine the quality of play. But Vitale, who’s been involved with the sport as a coach and announcer for half a century knows, of course, that freshmen have added immeasurably to the game in the four decades since they’ve been eligible to play.
One can certainly assert that teams play more cohesively the longer they play together and that teams with a surfeit of young players might be more mistake-prone. But the players leaving early for the pros are, as a group, an indisputable (and essentially by definition) superior group of players to the ones who play three or four years. And the much smaller group that stays for a single season is greater still.
That this group of stars, a very significant proportion of whom performed spectacularly during their one year in school, is responsible for the demise of the sport is utter nonsense. Vitale himself can’t really believe it. It’s just another, especially silly and incoherent version of the age-old “kids today” lament.