In basketball parlance, former Kentucky player Marcus Lee tested the waters last year. He entered his name in the 2016 NBA Draft. He worked out for two teams. He participated in the NBA Combine. He then chose to withdraw his name and return to college (of course, he transferred from UK to California).
“It was a very memorable and enjoyable experience,” Lee said Wednesday. “I’d recommend it to any college athlete — if you’re ready or not.”
NBA readiness has nothing to do with it. Submitting your name in the NBA Draft is a no-risk decision, assuming the player does not retain the services of an agent. Hiring an agent automatically ends college eligibility. If the player doesn’t like what NBA people tell him, he can withdraw from the draft and retain college eligibility.
Beginning last year, players now have much more time to ponder the college-or-pro decision. An NCAA rule change moved the deadline for withdrawing from the draft from April to 10 days after the NBA Combine, which is annually in mid-May.
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In what surely was music to UK Coach John Calipari’s ears, the later date for withdrawal changed the underlying timetable for “testing the waters”: from what’s convenient for college coaches to what helps players make the most informed decision.
The previous April deadline to withdraw began in 2012, and was in reaction to the one-and-done phenomenon.
“It was meant to provide coaches and institutions with more roster certainty earlier in the spring,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “The four years that legislation was in place, the realization of coaches and everyone was this is just not fair to student-athletes.”
The later deadline for withdrawal led to 110 underclassmen entering the 2016 NBA Draft. That was nearly three times greater than the usual number of early entrants, the NCAA said. Lee was one of 58 that chose to return to college.
This year’s NBA Draft drew entries from 137 underclassmen, of which six came from the University of Kentucky: freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo, plus sophomores Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries. Then there’s freshman Hamidou Diallo, who joined the UK team after the fall semester with the understanding he would not play until the 2017-18 season. He chose to test the waters this spring.
“The basketball landscape is very broad,” Gavitt said of Diallo’s nothing-to-lose decision, “and kids who are talented enough should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Diallo and the other underclassmen who have not hired an agent face a May 24 deadline to withdraw.
On March 20, the NCAA sent a 10-page memorandum to Division I coaches and athletic administrators outlining the do’s and don’ts involved with testing the waters. Besides the crossing the Rubicon decision of hiring an agent, the underclassman can lose eligibility if he:
1. Participates in a workout with an NBA team that lasts longer than 48 hours (the NBA Combine, which is May 9-14, is an exception to this rule).
2. Participates in a workout that forces him to miss class (again, the NBA Combine is an exception).
3. Uses “an adviser” throughout the process and does not pay the going rate for the advising services. The adviser is not allowed to contact NBA teams on behalf of the player nor assist in arranging workouts.
4. Enters a contractual agreement with an agent or even an oral agreement.
5. Allows a family member or, say, a high school or AAU coach, enter an agreement with an agent on his behalf.
Other NCAA guidelines involved in testing the waters include:
1. Underclassmen being able to enter their name in an NBA Draft multiple times. (Note: the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement only allows a player to remove his name from the draft twice.)
2. NBA teams can pay expenses for player workouts and/or participation in the NBA Combine. (There is no limit on the number of NBA teams that a player can work out for.)
3. NBA teams cannot pay for expenses associated with training in preparation for a tryout with an NBA team.
In making a decision about remaining in a draft or returning to college, a player can consult what’s known as the “NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.” The committee is made up of a large sample of NBA team executives who provide feedback for players and act as a sounding board.
Lee, whose family arranged workouts with the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, pointed out the important role Calipari plays in the process.
“He knows you, your family and what’s best for you,” Lee said of the UK coach. “You have that trust together. He’s looking out for his players, which any player and any family is looking for, especially at a time you’re thinking of the next level. You love to have that information and someone to back you up like that.”
May 9-14: NBA Draft Combine
May 16: NBA Draft Lottery
May 24: Deadline for players to withdraw from draft and retain NCAA eligibility
June 22: NBA Draft