June 28, 2004
As I sat and watched the NBA draft last week, I kept hearing names of high school players being picked early in the first round. There were eight high schoolers chosen in the top 19 and college Player of the Year Jameer Nelson went after all of them.
I fault the system, not these young men, for the influx of high schoolers in the NBA. These guys are not ready for the rigors of an 82-game schedule or the pressure of the pro lifestyle. They have not had enough time to mature and they are missing out on enjoying the great time of college life. Instead of being the big men on campus, they are often riding the pine in the NBA, not getting much of a chance to improve their game.
I learned first hand as a coach in the NBA that it's very different in terms of practice time to work on aspects of the game with these young men. Due to travel and the long schedule, the pros have more shootarounds and less time to actually work on improving.
I have said for a while now, and NBA commissioner David Stern, a man I have a lot of respect for, agrees that there is a need for a 20-year-old age limit. I have heard the argument of LeBron James, but he was the exception to the rule. Look at high schoolers like Kendrick Perkins, Ndudi Ebi and Travis Outlaw. Yes, injuries played a small part too, but none of these guys averaged five minutes a game or played as many as 20 games in the NBA last season. Imagine if Perkins was at Memphis learning from John Calipari, or Ebi at Arizona gaining knowledge from Lute Olson. Outlaw could have worked every day with Lawrence Roberts at Mississippi State.
Instead these high school kids rode the pine and did not get as much time to improve. At least they were lucky enough to go in the first round. Think about some of these names: D' Angelo Collins, Lenny Cooke and Korleone Young, to name a few. They did not go in the first round, and in the case of Collins and Cooke, they went undrafted and really became basketball vagabonds.
The draft is all about potential, and down the line in three years these kids may prove to be valuable. Jermaine O'Neal averaged under five points per game as a rookie and eventually matured.
For now, the NBA has very few impact players from the draft. At least one thing, despite the loss of all of these high school stars, the college ranks are very strong when you judge the returning talent. College basketball is very healthy, thank you.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he has been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.