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Insider

Wait a minute -- that congressman said what?

6/16/2009

The basketball games on the court are over, but the draft is right around the corner and the college basketball offseason never seems to be "off." There's always plenty to talk about ...

Congressional foolishness: I have no idea what a congressman has to do on a daily basis and how much study it takes to familiarize oneself with the important issues of the day. But I hope Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., shows some competence on important issues, because he doesn't know squat about basketball or labor law. It was Cohen that compared the NBA's age limit to vestiges of slavery, using hyperbole usually reserved for cable news gasbags. The so-called "one-and-done" rule is not an NCAA rule and has nothing to do with college basketball. The rule was collectively bargained between the NBA and the NBA players' association in accordance with federal antitrust laws. The rule was not intended to force young players to go to college; it was put in place for business reasons.

The NBA wants more time to evaluate talent and for the talent to be more mature and tested when it arrives on the NBA's doorstep. There is no mandate that players go to college. In fact, there have never been more avenues for players to take. A young player can play professional basketball in Europe, Asia, or South America, or play in the NBA Development League, or take money from a shoe company or an agent and spend a year and train at a place like IMG Academy. This is not a social program or a way to bolster college basketball. In truth, the NBA could care less about college basketball. The NBA cares about one thing and one thing only ... the NBA.

The idea that a rule that requires a prospect to be one year out of high school before being eligible for the NBA draft is akin to slavery is simply ludicrous. And to link the NBA's rule to alleged cheating on an entrance exam is not much better. No rule can cause anyone to cheat on a test. And when Cohen tried to wedge age discrimination into the discussion, David Stern deftly pointed out that you have to be at least 25 years old to be a congressman. Judging from Cohen, you don't have to pass a test to be a congressman.

What about football, Congressman? If Cohen is likening basketball to slavery, what is football like? A gulag? Remember, Rep. Cohen, the NFL and your home-state Titans require a football prospect to be three years removed from high school before being eligible for the draft. And football players do not have the same avenues to ply their trade as basketball players have.

More football vs. basketball: Don't you love it when people point to a few national players of the year who have not had big-time NBA careers as conclusive evidence that college basketball is diluted? Have they considered Heisman Trophy winners in football? There is a big difference between the player of the year and the best pro prospect. Sometimes they match up; sometimes they don't. The issue has been with us forever, and is not just a phenomenon of the early-entry era. The truth is, it is difficult stuff to project the success of every single player at the pro level. Whether you are using traditional methods, sabermetrics or a combination of the two, mistakes are common and everybody makes them. Football evaluators make as many mistakes as basketball evaluators, if not more. And the pigskin guys usually get several years to evaluate a prospect. Basketball is fortunate to get two or three.

Enough with the drama: Moving up the time frame for underclassmen to decide whether they are in or out of the NBA draft will be a welcome breather from the current system. After all this "testing of the waters," how many prospects stayed in the draft when most experts thought they should return? The answer is, only a few. The process had reached the point where I expected to read the headline, "Susan Boyle Declares for NBA Draft." It was that ridiculous. Nobody staying in the draft or going back to school needed two months to make the decision. Most are doing it for one reason and one reason alone: because the system allows it. So many of these prospects took the decision to the very last day, but they really can't make the same decision earlier? The only thing that made them decide was the deadline.

Draft surprises: There were only a couple of draft decisions that surprised me. I thought Texas A&M's Chinemelu Elonu would go back to school because he is not prepared for the NBA and he could have made a significant jump next year in college. I also thought Jodie Meeks would go back to Kentucky because he will probably not land in the first round this year, and a season in John Calipari's offense would have benefited him. But playing for a third coach in four seasons might not be attractive to anyone, even if the coach is one as good as Calipari. That made Meeks' decision a bit more understandable. Other than that, nothing really surprised me. These decisions were so predictable that I didn't put most of the early entries on my Best Available List.

Top teams: Not going out on a limb here, but it certainly appears Kansas is the best team heading into next season. First, the Jayhawks have everybody back. Second, Bill Self didn't have to mess around with the annual "testing of the waters" with players that had no business doing so. KU will be the preseason favorite to win the 2010 NCAA title, but not as heavy a favorite as North Carolina was this year. Joining Kansas near the top in the preseason poll should be Texas, Villanova and Michigan State. And don't be surprised if UNC crashes the Final Four party again.

What about Kentucky? Far be it for me to inject some reason into the rush to hang a banner in Rupp before practice begins, but I didn't think it was particularly fair to put Kentucky atop the polls even when I thought Jodie Meeks would return for his senior season. The Wildcats will have a bunch of very talented freshmen, but every player on the roster will be learning a brand-new system and playing for a brand-new coach. Some time to adjust might be needed. That said, Kentucky will be a top-10 team, and with John Wall, a lot is possible. He is the real thing.

Coach K and the Olympics: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is finalizing his decision of whether to coach the U.S. Olympic team for the next three years heading into the 2012 Olympics in London. While I don't know for certain whether he has made up his mind or what he will do, my early guess is that Coach K will ultimately decide to lead the Olympic team again. Whether you think he should or not, I think it is incredibly cool and says something really positive about USA Basketball that he would want to, and that so many players would want to play again. Under the leadership of Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball has built a new culture and it is a culture to be proud of. Krzyzewski has proved that he can do both and do both well. If he is moved to do it again, he should. And as a supporter of USA Basketball, I'm proud of it.

Colangelo's model: While the NCAA is run by ineffective committee after ineffective committee, Colangelo showed why having a committee of one can be much more effective and successful when that committee of one is a competent leader. If the NCAA would just put centralized power over college basketball in a competent CEO or commissioner, the game would be better run and better managed. As currently structured, the NCAA is too big, too slow and too uneducated in basketball to be able to adequately police the game. Going with a committee of one would be a great development for college hoops.

Always a problem: While we are trumpeting professional basketball overseas as a viable option for young players, and now for high school kids that have yet to graduate, there is one issue that seems to be overlooked. With the global downturn in the economy, I was hearing more than ever that players were having problems getting paid on time, if at all. While that has always been a persistent problem in some countries and with some clubs, it was a bigger problem this past season. One way to ensure prompt payment is to have the contract guaranteed by a bank.

Not surprised by Calhoun: During a recent charity bike ride, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun took a spill from his bicycle and broke six ribs, causing him to spend the night in a hospital. Was anyone really surprised that Calhoun got back on his bike and finished the 50-mile ride? That is vintage Calhoun.