I remember the good old days when I was a freshman. It was only half a year ago. I remember living in dingy Lanman-Wright Hall and wandering the campus for a half hour to find the “LC” building, only to find it was literally next door to my dorm. I couldn’t find my way to the basketball game, let alone think about playing at a competitive level.
Six young whippersnappers are showing why they are truly special individuals. Michael Beasley at Kansas State, Derrick Rose at Memphis, O.J. Mayo (word of experience: NEVER combine OJ and mayo in any other context, especially breakfast) at USC, Eric Gordon at Indiana, Kyle Singler at Duke and Kevin (McLovin!) Love at UCLA are, in the opinion of many sportswriters, the cream of this year’s college crop. And they’re all freshman barely used to living in a dorm.
What can we draw from the fact that the best six players (arguably) in the country are all freshmen? Maybe that they were ready to skip this level of play. Maybe this new rule forcing all players to play one year of college basketball before entering the NBA draft is misguided. Let’s look at who this rule helps and who it hurts.
This rule benefits fans of basketball at all levels and pro teams. Fans love watching superstars. Most professional basketball fans remember Carmelo Anthony’s amazing freshman year at Syracuse University almost as much as his time playing for the Denver Nuggets. The more talented players who filter through the college ranks and play on national television in the tournament, the more fans of basketball can see the future’s stars before they arrive.
Otherwise, some players fly under the radar. Even I, the kid who will watch the midnight Gonzaga vs. Loyola-Marymount game, end up seeing some professional players and wondering where they came from. Oh, some high school. Unless you’re Dwight Howard or Kobe Bryant, the country will not know you unless you either go to college or become an all star.
This rule helps teams because it works as a form of insurance. The Wizards might have known that Kwame Brown was not ready for the professional ranks had he been forced to play a year of college basketball against some of the nation’s top talent. Instead they used their pick on a player who can be called a bust. Washington was put on a state of alert somewhere between “code orange” and “code red.” I called it “code Brown.”
Ultimately, however, the policy hurts the players. If they are talented enough to jump to the NBA, they should not be held back one year and forced to attend college. Attending college is a privilege — anyone who does not wish to attend college should be allowed to forego the opportunity and give their spot at the university to another deserving student who plans to treat college like … college. Let’s be honest, if you were averaging a double-double at the highest level of college basketball and had millions of dollars waiting for you at the end of the year, would you really stress out about your tests? I wouldn’t. I’d major in XBOX.
I understand why the NFL forces its players to play college football for three years before allowing them to enter the league. But football is a game that demands a different level of physicality. The number of athletes truly ready for the professional game immediately after high school is the same as my percentage chance to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday — zero. Seventeen-year-olds just are not developed enough to take punishment from Ray Lewis.
I also understand that many college basketball fans envision this new rule as ushering in an era of college basketball like it was during Patrick Ewing’s time, when athletes went to school for four years and cared about their studies. But that age is gone and buried and will never return. Forcing kids to stay for their freshman year hardly helps build programs or rivalries between specific players on certain teams.
So let my people, er, my former people go. If Greg Oden looks 40, let him play against people who look his own age. Forcing O.J. Mayo to shoot 41 percent from three-point range in college because nobody can guard him is a waste of his life and an unfair imposition on the man’s ability to earn a living.
Yeah, the man’s ability. This is not a Patriots vs. Ravens game, and I am not a referee, so I can’t call him a boy. I can’t treat him the way I treat most freshmen. Because he’s not a freshman at USC — he’s a player in the one-year fast track to the NBA, which once upon a time represented colleges.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.