The fact that Kentucky is losing its top seven scorers — more than half of their 13 scholarship players — as early entries into the NBA draft is really not much of a story in itself. We expected this.
The Wildcats are losing a junior in Willie Cauley-Stein, three sophomores in the Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson, and three freshmen in Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and the big prize, Karl-Anthony Towns — who we need to start calling Karl Towns because it’s way easier. No big deal. This is how John Calipari’s program works at Kentucky. So, in my mind, the fact that these players are entering the draft is not “news”, but it still carries a lot of meaning.
The first thing it means is that this is a bad look for Calipari. Not that he’s losing seven players, but that he wasn’t able to win it all with those players. Seven of his guys have decided they’re NBA ready right now, and three more on the roster figure to play in the NBA one day, and he still couldn’t win with them. Coach Cal kept expectations of an undefeated season as low as he could, constantly mentioning that they can be beat at anytime. His strategy didn’t work. It does speak to the players that they were unable to cut down the nets, but it speaks much louder to Calipari’s inability to translate a roster with by far the most talent into a championship team.
However, this means Kentucky will be Kentucky, and in the end it will simply reload and attempt to win it all next year. With Skal Labissiere (3rd ranked prospect in ESPN 100), Isaiah Briscoe (13th) and Charles Matthews (42nd) all committed to the Wildcats, 2015-16 is looking promising already. And if you were thinking that the incoming Kentucky class looks somewhat weak like I was, then think again. Seven of the top 12 recruits in the country remain undecided, and all seven have Big Blue Nation on their list of choices.
With Thursday’s announcement, it’s pretty safe to say that we can expect some of Kentucky’s new scholarship openings to be filled with those unsigned prospects. Don’t you worry, the Wildcats will be just fine.
But the most significant thing we learned from the “news” out of Lexington, is that both the NCAA and NBA have to look into changing their rules. This shouldn’t happen — no school should be sitting down to announce that seven of its players are leaving early (and it could have been 10 if they really wanted).
The easiest change is for the NBA. Requiring players to go through one year of college ball doesn’t really do a thing. It just postpones what would be happening out of high school for some of these kids, and gives the colleges the opportunity to host all these “one-and-dones.” Some will argue that it gives NBA front offices an extra year to scout young players, but the players are still too raw either way. To say that we know for sure that Towns or Jahlil Okafor are going to be stars, but didn’t know that when they were seniors in high school is absurd.
Even changing the rule to two years in college doesn’t make a huge difference, although it can’t hurt. The players and the teams both need to have options, though, which is why the NBA should go back to allowing kids to enter the draft out of high school. If an 18-year old thinks he is talented enough, let him prove it. NBA scouts should be smart enough to know if the prospect is for real or not. The catch? Once you elect to go to college, you’re going for three years. College basketball wins because their stars can grow on their stage, and the NBA wins because they have more time to monitor these stars.
On the NCAA’s side, we need some freaking rule changes. The current rules make the game way too slow paced, as well as difficult for the most talented kids to succeed as much as they should be able to. Change the way fouls are called. Make paint play more similar to the NBA. And for crying out loud, forget dropping the shot clock to 30 seconds, give us 24! Nearly every possession turns into 30 seconds of dribbling and passing anyway before somebody takes a bad shot.
I’ve digressed. But the bottom line is that basketball — on both the college and professional levels — needs to take a close look at how ridiculous their rules and standards have changed things. Seven underclassmen should not be sitting down at a table together announcing that they are leaving school together.
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