Two questions always dominate men’s college basketball as the NCAA tournament approaches the penultimate weekend: Who’s going to win the title and who’s leaving early for the NBA?
The Maryland Terrapins didn’t qualify for the postseason, but they don’t have worry about losing their best player, either. Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer this season, announced Wednesday that he will return for his junior year. Conversely, St. John’s University missed out on the tournament and coach Steve Lavin has a hole to fill. Moe Harkless, the Big East Rookie of the Year, declared for the draft and plans to hire an agent, making the decision irreversible.
Other “one-and-done” candidates this year might include Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (the consensus No. 1 overall pick), teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Duke’s Austin Rivers. One mock draft has nine freshmen in the first round, including four of the top seven picks.
That’s nothing new. Many freshmen have gone high in the draft since 2007, when freshmen Greg Oden and Kevin Durant went 1-2 after the NBA banned high school players. But a new NCAA policy this season makes me question the organization’s concern about underclassmen, whether they are one-and-done, two-and-through or three-and-flee.
Instead of continuing to allow players to “test the waters,” as it has done for years, the NCAA moved up its deadline to withdraw from the draft and retain collegiate eligibility if an agent hasn’t been signed. Players used to have until May 8, which gave them an opportunity to work out for NBA teams and receive feedback.
But the pull-out date this year is April 10, three weeks before the NBA allows its teams to contact early-entry candidates.
If the NCAA really wanted players to make the most well-informed decisions possible, it wouldn’t have eliminated a major component of the fact-gathering process. Players still can get an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, but those findings aren’t nearly as helpful as assessments from individual teams.
The NCAA said the change “is intended to help keep student-athletes focused on academics in the spring term and to give coaches a better idea of their roster for the coming year before the recruiting period is closed.”
Too bad the new policy doesn’t achieve either goal. It just causes confusion and forces players into making less-educated decisions.
North Carolina sophomores Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall have until April 29 to apply for the draft. That’s the NBA’s deadline to declare and the league couldn’t care less about the NCAA’s calendar. If Barnes and Marshall are contemplating the jump, they’ll still wonder about their standing in mock drafts and work back channels to figure it out; Coach Roy Williams still will wonder whether they’re coming back and how his recruiting might be affected.
Under the NCAA’s new policy, declaring early makes little sense and delivers no advantage. Harkless, for instance, now is locked in unless he withdraws his name by April 10. He could have used the extra 19 days afforded by the NBA’s deadline to explore his opportunity further before making a final decision.
Why force players to commit before they can talk to NBA teams or work out for them? Why make it impossible to test the waters under any circumstances anymore?
“It’s the dumbest thing ever,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told ESPN.com. “It’s stupid. If this is about the kids, then that’s the last thing this is about.” Longtime sneaker executive and NCAA critic Sonny Vaccaro added that coaches who voted for the rule “are preventing the players from getting a chance to see their value.”
The new rule has no teeth, because players still can declare after the NCAA’s April 10 date, regardless of what they said earlier. But it manages to bite players and coaches, anyway, keeping the former in the dark while granting no relief for the latter.