Top recruits embracing 'one-and-done'
The conversations are inevitable.
Gather the nation's top recruits, cram them into gymnasiums in Orlando, Las Vegas and Kansas City, and surround them with recruiters, shoe executives and talent evaluators.
You want them to discuss college scholarships and the Big Dance. They want to discuss NBA contracts, The League, and how fast it will happen.
"We talk about it all the time," said DeMarcus Cousins (the No. 4-ranked prospect on the ESPNU 100), a 6-foot-9 center from Mobile, Ala., who committed to UAB on Wednesday, the first day of the fall signing period. "How much we'd like to get there, who we'd like to play for, the money, the fame. We talk about it all."
Speed is currency in the world of recruiting, and the quicker you sign your first soft-drink deal, the quicker you can join the list of one-name celebrities.
While championing the values of an education, Kenny Hall (ESPNU's No. 55 prospect) speaks for so many.
"Honestly," said the 6-foot-9, Tennessee-bound forward from Stone Mountain, Ga., "I want to go as soon as I can."
Since the NBA established in 2006 that players must be 19 years old and a year removed from high school to apply for the draft, 2009 recruits such as Cousins and Hall have no aspirations of a college-free jump to the NBA.
One-and-done is the new fad.
Those ubiquitous conversations include names like Kevin Love and Greg Oden. They should also include the cautionary tales of freshmen sensations-turned-washouts like St. John's Omar Cook and Cincinnati's Dontonio Wingfield.
"The topic probably gets thrown around more than it should because you really do have to be very, very good," said Ryan Kelly (ESPNU's No. 12 prospect), a 6-foot-9, Duke-bound forward from Raleigh, N.C. "There are not many kids who have that talent. It's just a goal."
For the record, Cousins said he doesn't have a problem staying two years, Hall said he'll only jump for guaranteed money, and Kelly openly mused about his lifelong dream: "I don't know if I'm going to be that good, but I'm going to try to be."
The issues are numerous.
"It's just a matter of you understanding your situation," said Carmelo Anthony, who entered the 2003 draft after one NCAA-title-winning season at Syracuse. "If you feel like you're ready -- take that jump. But if not, I say you should stay."
Anthony makes it sound easy, because it was for him. He arrived at Syracuse with no goals of leaping to the NBA. A year later, while experiencing that one shining moment, he was one of the nation's top players.
"I did that in one year," said the current Denver Nugget.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim described Anthony's as the best possible situation. That's the exception, not the rule, a truth he addresses to prospects. He tells the blue-chippers that when the time comes, there will be a thorough and open evaluation into their NBA future.
Boeheim won't stop recruiting the best players, even if they voice a desire to leap early. As long as team chemistry doesn't suffer and he can recruit reinforcements, he's fine.
Those who knew Anthony say he never divided the locker room with his goals, and the same is said about 2007 draft entrant Texas forward Kevin Durant.
"From the stories I hear from players, Durant was focused on Texas basketball, not the NBA," said ESPNU's No. 15 recruit guard Avery Bradley, a 6-foot-3 Longhorns signee from Tacoma, Wash. "But I'll hear recruits, and our conversations are on how many years it'll take. Some guys are worried their second year might not be as good, or the school might over-recruit. They see it as getting in and getting out."
Boeheim doesn't join the ranks of former Arizona coach Lute Olson, who swore off one-and-done players after Brandon Jennings, the ESPNU's 2008 top recruit, jilted the Wildcats for a contract with an Italian team.
But Boeheim, a former member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors, would like to see the rule changed when the collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2010-11 season.
"I really wish we could have a rule where a kid could come out of high school if he's in the top 15 picks," Boeheim said. "If he does go to college, then he has to stay two years or three years."
Academically, one-year players hurt a program's Academic Progress Rate. Most who bolt early don't finish spring-semester classes. That decision negatively affects the APR, which measures the percentage of players on track to graduate and can result in loss of scholarships.
"I'm not a big fan of [the APR], and I don't think too many coaches are," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, another NABC board member who watched freshman forward Gerald Wallace leave for the 2001 draft. "But with Gerald, he was a shot of enthusiasm, and was so positive for our program that one year. That would cost you one in the APR [now], but I think most guys could live with that."
Academics are a focus for Gottfried, who has had 26 of 27 possible players graduate. Recruits and their parents echo the emphasis.
Hall's mother, Kim, said she and her son agree: "The whole objective is for him to finish college."
Players receive oodles of advice from various sources on how to proceed.
One example is Larry Marshall, a mentor and AAU coach. Based in New Jersey and head of the youth-development organization Kids Plus, Marshall describes his role as anything from spiritual guide to professional liaison to trainer to counselor to researcher who conducts a "feasibility study" to gauge a player's future.
He claims he was chosen by God to teach his prospects how to flourish with their great gift. Athletes do not pay him. But, he added, "If they want to, when they become professional, give back to the organization, that's fine. If they want to make donations, that's fine."
In 2005, Marshall advised future Lakers No. 10 pick Andrew Bynum to skip college for the NBA draft. This year, he is advising former ESPNU No. 9 prospect and current Vols 6-foot-5 freshman Scotty Hopson.
"I told Scotty, if that opportunity arises and you have the ability to be one-and-done through the evaluation of all components, then we want to take advantage of that opportunity," Marshall said. "And the same time, protect your rights, so if it doesn't work out you can go back and continue the conversation."
Hopson has not played a minute for the Vols yet, though he does have a drink named after him in a Knoxville-area bar (order a Scotty Hopson, receive Kentucky bourbon and orange juice). The decision about the NBA has loomed for years.
"We should know by December what he's looking like," his mother Jeanette Hopson said. "If he can be a lottery pick at the end of '09, then we'll consider making that jump. But if not, we'll stay for another year."
Even in the conversations among recruits, there is not a consensus. Every player is different.
"I would like to be one of those guys who stays four years and play to win," said ESPNU's No. 54 prospect Thomas Robinson, a 6-foot-8 forward from Washington, D.C., who signed with Kansas. "Winning the national championship is always the goal. Some of the guys who want to leave early are not ready. I'd rather improve, so by the time I'm ready to leave, I won't have a choice."
For most, though, the issues are pondered early. A fast leap means fast dollars, which means the NBA's fast lane. With one-and-done on the table, staying four years is falling off it.
"We'll joke about things like the NBA," said 6-foot-7 forward Jordan Hamilton (ESPNU's No. 8 prospect overall), a Compton, Calif., resident who signed with Texas. "But most of us aren't taking it into consideration. We figure that we're just going to stay two years, three years at the most."
Ian R. Rapoport covers University of Alabama athletics for The Birmingham News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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