- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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As a freshman at UCLA in 2013-14, guard Zach LaVine averaged 9.4 points on 7.8 shots, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes per game. In late March, after Florida ended UCLA's season in the Sweet 16, LaVine's father, Paul LaVine, told the Los Angeles Daily News that his son -- a too-thin backup guard who scored 11 points in his final five games -- would be one-and-done.
People mostly laughed.
Some of it was the fatherly bravado in Paul LaVine's quotes. He said the decision was like a "divorce," and that NBA scouts "loved" his son. LaVine's godfather, Marvin Carter, told the Daily News that he admired the job UCLA coach Steve Alford had done with the team in general, but nonetheless wished Zach "had more of a chance to compete." And there was nothing more for LaVine to do at UCLA.
“Every year he spends at UCLA after this one is a waste,” Carter said. “It really is.”
LaVine, for all of his obvious potential, was not exactly Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, so all of this stuff was pretty funny. Others saw something more sinister: The NBA and its agents tempting a player who wasn't ready with the promise of freedom and riches. The 19-year-old age limit rearing its ugly head once more to the detriment of all involved.
The problem with all of the jokes is that LaVine's family was right: LaVine has as good a chance to develop in the NBA as he did as a college basketball player.
To insist he didn't was to insist that college basketball owns a monopoly on player development. The scoffs stemmed from the idea that a player must be ready to play in the NBA from the moment he steps into the league to have any hope of long-term success, that development stops at the draft decision. Much as the collective college hoops consciousness may like to think this is the case, it's not.
Just ask Duke's Jabari Parker:
Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions:
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?
The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.
That was Parker, writing with Jeff Benedict for Sports Illustrated Thursday, announcing his decision to turn pro. The announcement is about as unsurprising as draft decisions get: Parker is practically guaranteed to be a top-three pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and top-three picks almost never turn down the draft.
Still, if there was any player for whom such a decision may have made sense, it was Parker. He's a thoughtful dude with a genuine desire to earn a degree. He played for Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest college basketball coach ever and a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner. Duke has world-class facilities and fan support. There are few better places in the world for a teenage college basketball player to develop on or off the court.
Plus, as Parker wrote, a loaded 2014 Duke class is led by his "good friend," center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player in the country. If Parker had returned, Duke would have been favored to win the national title from now until next March. (That starting lineup -- some combination of Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Parker and Okafor -- is terrifying even as a hypothetical.)
And none of it was enough to keep Parker in college.
There are good financial arguments for the NBA, of course, and Parker is good enough that he doesn't have to take the short-term risk that, say, LaVine might. Parker is an obvious NBA talent with a decade of potential to mine until his peak. LaVine is all risk-reward. But the larger point remains: Parker had about as good a collegiate situation as any player could ever ask for, and was nonetheless convinced that the NBA was the better place for him to "grow and develop" in every facet of his life.
Whatever new NBA commissioner Adam Silver eventually proposes to replace the current age limit -- and all signs are that Silver would very much like to make a change -- this is a key consideration for folks on the college side to understand. The argument has always been framed much differently. College basketball was the place to develop. The NBA was the place to get paid. How long until those distinctions blur entirely?