Arizona Coach Lute Olson said Thursday that his program's loss of standout prep basketball player Brandon Jennings to a European professional league had persuaded him to adopt a new recruiting strategy.
“It's a situation now that if someone's a ‘one-and-done,' we're not going to pursue them anymore, no way,” Olson said from his Tucson office.
Under NBA rules that won't expire until after the 2010-11 season, elite prep players such as Jennings, 18, are unable to join the league until they are 19 and a year removed from their final year of high school. That mandate has resulted in a slew of top players, including USC's O.J. Mayo and UCLA's Kevin Love, playing one college season before bolting for the NBA's millions.
Olson, 73, a basketball Hall of Fame member who guided the Wildcats to the 1997 NCAA title, labels the so-called one-and-done situation a “farce,” and is pushing for reform through the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Olson suggested that elite prep players be given a choice: opt to declare for the NBA Draft immediately after high school or be committed to spending a minimum of two years (Olson would prefer three) in college.
The coach, returning to the bench from a one-year hiatus because of his divorce, was poised to add another top recruit to “Point Guard U.” when Jennings signed.
But as Jennings, a native Southern Californian and McDonald's All-American who played the last two seasons at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, awaited the SAT score that would determine his college eligibility, Jennings began pursuing the idea of earning an immediate income as a pro in Europe. On Tuesday, Jennings announced he would play overseas.
So, now Olson will be deprived of both Jennings and guard Jerryd Bayless, a one-season player from Arizona's 2007-08 roster. Bayless was a lottery pick of the Indiana Pacers and was traded to Portland earlier this month.
“Jerryd said all along he wanted to stay here two years,” Olson said. “But then you get the agents working on the kids and parents all year. You might have the kid in your controlled environment for some time, but when (outsiders are) on the parents, you have no idea what's going on.”
Olson said the hits to Arizona's roster culminate a scene he forecast when the NBA and its players' union agreed to allow one-and-done after the 2005 season.
“We said at the time it'd be a disaster, that agents would be swarming all over — not only over these kids, but their parents — telling them the kid needed to score a ton of points in the one year and get out,” Olson said. “I'm not saying that's the case in every situation, but you've already seen the danger. What we predicted is happening. This is agent-driven, and it's a horrible rule.”
A coaching community push for an alternative to one-and-done will “likely” result in the coaches' association lobbying the NCAA basketball issues committee, NABC spokesman Rick Leddy said.
Yet, NABC member and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim expressed resignation that “we can't do anything about this rule ... We're stuck with it,” until 2011.
Asked if he too would follow Olson's disregard for “one-and-done” candidates, Boeheim asked, “Are you crazy?” and cast doubt on the seriousness of Olson's claim.
“We don't know who's going to go,” Boeheim said. “You try to get the best 11 players you can. Guys will leave … it's a fact of life … but you still have 10 guys. When we recruit, we try to get the best one we can and hope he's good enough to win you a national championship, like Carmelo Anthony. But you have to be prepared for guys leaving, like Carmelo did.”
USC Coach Tim Floyd said despite Mayo's short-term stay this past season, the player “did a lot for our program, and if we had an opportunity to sign O.J. or a great talent like him again, we would.
“These guys didn't design the rules, the NBA did. I advocate letting the kid go straight to the NBA if he wants, but we won't model this thing. The NBA will.”
Floyd expressed skepticism about Jennings' move to Europe: “I don't know why Brandon would want to reinvent the wheel unless it's an academic issue.”
Minnesota Coach Tubby Smith, on the NABC board of directors, said he planned to address one-and-done and expects “something to come about.”
Smith, who led Kentucky to the 1998 NCAA championship, said he “can see (Olson's) point,” but added, “everybody wants the opportunity to coach a great player. … Even if it is for one year, they can do a lot for you.”
Watching games Thursday at an AAU tournament in Pennsylvania, Smith said, “Kids are more sophisticated now, but not necessarily more mature. They have a lot more options, more advisors, more opportunities.
“Is that good? The NBA and college basketball continue to prosper, but we've got to be careful and make sure we're doing our best to monitor the kids' best interest.”