I often make the case that underclassmen should stay in school rather than jump to the NBA. But I realize that for some college players, leaving early for the NBA is the right thing to do. I have no problem with that if it's truly the best move for them.
If a kid's family struggles big-time just to make ends meet, he's got to consider the security of a big contract.
Recently, I did a column on five wacky reasons why underclassmen decide to declare for the draft (but they really shouldn't). Now I'm going to give you five reasons why guys should leave the college campus.
1. Overall Maturity
A player has to be physically, mentally and emotionally ready to meet the challenge. I'm talking about guys who have the body, the mental toughness and the ability to absorb the punishment of the NBA's 82-game schedule. They have to know how to handle the travel, living in hotels and managing the free time. They have to handle the responsibilities that come with being a young professional athlete.
2. Top 10 Guarantee
If a player will be in the top 10 for sure, and it's guaranteed, can you blame him for leaving? If a team makes that kind of investment in a first-round draft choice, that player will get a great look. Even if he struggles, the team won't turn him loose because they want to get something back for the dollars they've spent.
3. Financial Necessity
If a player has his back against the wall financially, if his family doesn't have food on the table and struggles big-time just to make ends meet, he's got to consider the security of a big contract. The money given to a top-10 pick can help him take care of his family. Handling those responsibilities is admirable.
Kwame Brown is an example. He's got seven brothers and sisters, a mother who's on disability and a dad in prison. How could he say no to the pros when he knew he would be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft coming out of high school? The opportunity and instant financial success led to an easy decision.
4. Support System
Early-entry players need a support network available for the difficult transition from college to the pros. The guys who have that have an edge. To deal with the travel and with players who are in their late 20s and 30s, who have been around the block a bit, you need support. Also, some people will leech on you, so you need help with guidance, understanding and good judgment.
If an underclassman also knows he'll get playing time (or PT) in the pros, it makes sense to go early. If you know for sure you're going high in the draft, you know you won't be sitting on the pine -- and there's no better way to improve your game than with game experience.
Having coached on the collegiate and professional levels, practices are not as intense in the NBA as they are in college. The amount of learning and teaching is less because of the strain of travel and playing so many games each week. Once you break training camp, there's less teaching, so if you don't get PT in a five-on-five situation, responding under game pressure, you don't get the same chance to improve. Sure, you can practice shooting the J all you want, but it just isn't the same. Look at the guys who jumped from high school who've had a chance to play -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady developed into star players.
PT was a concern for Kwame Brown this season. He sat on the pine an awful lot in Washington. Sometimes you hear a buzz that perhaps you're overrated. That's where you need psychological help from your support system (Brown has good support from Doug Collins and Michael Jordan).
So ... those are some of the reasons underclassmen should go to the NBA early. I don't think every kid should absolutely go back to school. Some are ready to go to the pros, some who have no desire whatsoever to go to class. For them, college is not really part of their lifestyle and they haven't prepared. It's sad in a way, but I do understand.
Many make decisions to leave college early for the five wacky reasons I gave previously. Hopefully, the kids who leave this year are doing so for the right reasons.