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Insider

Making sense of draft process

4/23/2009

I have never been a big fan of the "test the waters" rule that the NCAA set forth several years ago in which college underclassmen can declare for the NBA draft but retain their eligibility by not hiring an agent. It's not because I'm against young players pursuing their dreams of playing in the NBA, but because I want those young players to face reality about whether they are truly ready to play at the next level. To me, the "test the waters" rule never made sense and is incongruous with the way that the NCAA usually acts.

There is no reason to give players any chance to come back to school after declaring for the draft. Once a player officially declares his intention to become a professional and puts his name in the draft, he should be seen as having renounced his college eligibility. Period.

The reasons for underclassmen declaring for the draft have evolved over time and are now meaningless. In the rule's infancy, players wanted to make certain they were lottery picks. Then they wanted to see if they were first-round picks. Eventually, just confirmation of being drafted at all was good enough to leave school early and stay in the draft, especially since Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer were selected in the second round and wound up making more money that way.

Now underclassmen declare for the draft simply for the experience. And by not signing with an agent, they can go through the process and still return to college. Hardly a junior alive chooses not to declare for the draft.

Predictably, the rule has turned the draft process into an annual mess. Now even average players are declaring. On ESPN's bottom line, so many players are reported as declaring that it is no longer even news. The real news would be a good player saying no to the draft and returning to school. Because of the rule, and only because of the rule, every player that can walk and chew gum declares early for the draft, often against the advice of intelligent and experienced basketball people.

Furthermore, when a player tests the waters, he has to leave school to travel to workouts with NBA teams. Too many players are putting themselves at academic risk by testing the waters, and they are sending an unmistakable message that they really don't want to be in college and would prefer to be in the NBA.

Right now, a new NCAA rule prevents college coaches from evaluating recruits away from their high school campuses during the month of April. The motivation behind the rule change was to prevent high school kids from missing so much school while they traveled to attend tournaments and events. But college kids can effectively miss two months of classes to "test the waters" and that doesn't send a bad message?

And I have always enjoyed this inconsistency ... if a kid signs a letter of intent to attend a school, he is contractually bound to the university. But declare for the draft and trumpet your intention to be a professional and you get to come back to school if you get rejected.

The current rule brings nothing but uncertainty to the NBA, colleges and to the players themselves. Prospects that can really play and are the "genuine article" don't need to test the waters. Everyone knows that they are ready for the next level. The most recent NCAA proposal would require prospects to pull out of the draft by May 8 in order to preserve college eligibility.

The process needs certainty. The players need certainty. The game needs certainty. Contrary to popular belief, NBA teams would generally like to see most players stay in school longer before coming into the league. The NBA doesn't want to waste time with players that aren't ready and probably aren't staying in the draft. So let's drop the charade and do this the right way. Once you declare, you are gone. It is the only reasonable way to do it.

• Even though it may be a distinction without a difference, there is no such thing as a "one and done rule." For more than 30 years, college players have been free to declare for the NBA draft after just one season of college basketball. Recently, the NBA and the NBA Players Association agreed in the collective bargaining process that American players would be eligible for the draft at 19 years of age and one year out of high school.

The NCAA and NCAA member institutions cannot pass any rules that would keep players in college for a single day longer than the players choose. The NBA is the only entity that can pass a rule that would effectively keep players in school longer. Generally, it is in the NBA's best interest to have players in school longer. NBA teams would have more time to scout and evaluate players against high-level competition and fewer errors would be made in the draft process. And players would enter the NBA with a higher level of maturity and as widely known and marketed entities.

In the vast majority of cases, everyone would benefit by having players stay in school for a minimum of two years. Here is what I would do if I were in charge: Players could declare for the draft out of high school, but would be renouncing their college eligibility if they did so. If a player did not put his name into the draft out of high school, he would not be eligible again for the draft until he has reached the age of 20 and was two years out of high school.

• I don't believe that the NFL and the NBA are all that different with regard to the difficulty involved in evaluating talent for the next level. Most of the time, NFL and football scouts get five years to evaluate a football player and there are tons of mistakes made annually in the NFL draft process even with that amount of time. But in the NBA, teams often have to evaluate players and make decisions based upon one year of collegiate competition.

Until the latest draft eligibility rules were passed, NBA teams had to evaluate players based upon high school and AAU competition alone. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for the NFL to evaluate and draft football players after just one year of college or right out of high school? Think of all of the projections and assumptions that would have to be made. Most early entrants to the NBA are not prepared for the physical challenge they are about to face and it takes them a period of time to adjust. The same would be true in football.

• For the most part, basketball players and football players are truly outstanding athletes. But there is no question in my mind that, by and large, basketball players are better athletes. Rather than argue the point, though, let me ask a question: How many football players cross over into basketball and play in the NBA? None. But basketball players are often pursued to play football. If you want to hold out Terrell Owens as your example, T.O. never played any meaningful minutes on the basketball court when at Chattanooga.

• Recently, I have heard some say that the NBA playoffs are more "watchable" than college basketball was this past season. I would not disagree with that, but it is not because NBA players are more athletic and more talented and skilled than their college counterparts. The same argument can be made between the NFL and college football. There is no way that college football players can possibly compete with NFL players. The difference in the "watchabilty" of an NBA game compared to the college game is in the officiating. The college game is more physical than the NBA game and until college basketball is called closer, college teams will be able to bump and grind and slow down faster and more athletic teams.

• If 6-foot-10 high school junior Jeremy Tyler does indeed skip his senior year of high school to sign a professional contract in Europe, it could be an unfortunate mistake. I had the opportunity to work with Tyler at the LeBron James Skills Academy over the past two summers and he is a really talented young man that has a very bright future on the court. But I think you can make a credible argument that Jeremy has been brought along too fast as a person and has been thrown into situations that were beyond his maturity level.

Tyler was put among older players as a high school freshman and he was socially out of place. But to leave high school having completed nothing of consequence as a student is simply not right. In my judgment, no high school senior should drop out of school. This is not about basketball, it is about having friends, about having a normal life off of the court. If you are that good and that talented -- and Jeremy is -- you can finish school and still be a great player.

To make a few bucks -- which will be a mere pittance when compared with what Jeremy should earn throughout his career if he is indeed the real thing -- Jeremy and his parents may be sacrificing his social development and maturity. I wish Jeremy nothing but the best and I hope he is not making a mistake he will regret later on in his life.