One of the key recommendations in the Commission on College Basketball’s report late last month on how to clean up corruption in the sport centers on a concept the NCAA can’t really control.
The Commission — chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — led off its report with a call to end the “one-and-done” era, which all but forces high school superstars to play one season of college before jumping to the NBA.
The alternatives — play for relatively little pay in the G League or leave the United States to earn money as a professional basketball player overseas — aren’t great, and that means the vast majority of top recruits choose the college route, if only for a season.
The NBA, of course, is responsible for the requirement, and it will take negotiations between the league and its players’ association to strike down those age barriers. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has expressed a willingness to get rid of the one-and-done rule, but various reports that have come out since the Commission released its recommendations peg 2020 as the earliest possible year that high school recruits would be able to go straight to the league.
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That means next season’s incoming group of five-star prospects, and the 2019 class that follows, will head off to college before starting to earn a living playing basketball.
The Herald-Leader spoke to several top recruits in the class of 2019 about the possible rule change a couple of weeks ago in Indianapolis, where the Nike and Under Armour travel leagues held major events. The consensus: elite recruits are glad the one-and-done rule could be gone soon, and they wish it was gone in time for them to consider their own preps-to-the-NBA decisions.
“There’s a lot of players that just don’t need to be at that next level,” top-10 recruit Scottie Lewis said of the college route. “They should be able to skip, and (the NBA) is definitely the main goal. So I think it will benefit a lot of people. You know, Marvin Bagley shouldn’t have had to play college basketball. RJ Barrett shouldn’t have to play college basketball. They’re chasing their dream.
“College is a great experience — it’s just not for everybody.”
Lewis said he thought allowing high school players to go straight to the NBA would cut down on “a lot of the falseness that’s going around” in college basketball. Players with no interest in being in the classroom wouldn’t have to be there. Other questionable figures trying to curry favor with those players might not be as prevalent.
Lewis, a major UK target and one of the more thoughtful and outspoken elite recruits in the 2019 class, said the knowledge that the NBA could be a year closer might also help the development and outlook of young basketball stars.
He said he “slacked off” early in his high school career, especially in the area of physical development.
“I think I have the mindset and some of the skill set to play at that next level,” Lewis said. “I feel like if I had the opportunity — and I knew it was going to happen — I would have prepared myself physically to play at that next level. … I would definitely like to have that option.”
His five-star peers made similar comments.
James Wiseman — the No. 1 target on UK’s recruiting board and No. 1 overall player in the ESPN and 247Sports rankings — said high school players should have the chance to jump straight to the NBA.
Vernon Carey — another major UK target and the No. 1 recruit in the Rivals.com rankings — agreed.
“It would be pretty cool. Just having the opportunity, if you don’t want to stay in (school),” he said.
Another five-star recruit — former Syracuse commitment Darius Bazley — made the unorthodox decision recently to skip college and go straight to the G League, which will have a salary of $35,000 next season. Bazley will not be eligible to play in the NBA for another year.
Carey said he’s friends with Bazley and found the move interesting.
“It’s his decision,” he said. “I feel like if he wants to go that route, then it’s probably the best for him. So I’m just going to support him.”
He, and other 2019 stars, said it’s not a decision they’ll be duplicating. If the options are G League or a place like UK, Duke or North Carolina — three of the top schools on Carey’s list — the choice is clear. “I’d like to experience college life, so I’ll probably just go to college,” he said.
While Carey was speaking, one of his high school and Nike league teammates — Scottie Barnes — was shooting around on the practice floor. A few days earlier, Barnes became the first prospect in the 2020 class to land a scholarship offer from Kentucky, which rarely offers recruits at such a young age.
247Sports ranks Barnes as the No. 7 overall prospect in the class of 2020.
The No. 1 player on that list — California shooting guard Jalen Green — has already told 247Sports that he would skip college to go to the NBA, if he’s given the chance. “I would take that if they were to change it,” he said. “I would want to go pro.”
Barnes, however, said he enjoys watching college basketball and thinks it would help his development as a competitive stepping stone from preps to pros.
“It shows you what the next level is like, and I want to be prepared for that,” he said.
Barnes did acknowledge he would have to carefully consider such a move, however, and that kind of thinking will make recruiting at the highest levels a little bit more difficult for college coaches to navigate, if the one-and-done rule ceases to exist.
“I would definitely have to look into it if I have the opportunity to do it,” Barnes said. “But, for right now, I’m focusing on going to college, getting that experience. I feel like college will help me get ready for that next level.”