The unknown future of one-and-done
Editor's note: This is Part II of ESPN.com's two-day series on the NBA's minimum age requirement. To read how we got to this point in the one-and-done era, click here.A meeting at a burger joint in Wichita, Kan., nearly changed the future for one of the NBA's most familiar prep-to-pro tragedies.
That evening in 1998, then-Wichita East high school coach Ron Allen begged his former star forward, Korleone Young, to reconsider his choice to turn pro.
Young, a 6-foot-7 forward, had left the state his senior year in high school to play at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.
He was a top prospect who'd drawn interest from multiple collegiate programs. But Allen didn't believe the blue-chip recruit yet possessed the maturity or the work ethic to compete in the NBA. Allen warned Young about the dangers of his decision, but he still wonders if he did enough to influence Young -- who'd moved to Kansas City shortly before the 1998 draft -- as they talked about his future over burgers and fries.
"If I could do it all over again, I would have went to Kansas City, brought him back here and locked him up," said Allen, a father figure for Young throughout his high school career. "The fight should have occurred right there. I wanted to bust him."
Young was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of that year's draft. He played 15 total minutes in three games and accrued just 13 points. He found work in various pro leagues, mostly overseas, after his short stint in the NBA. But he never seized the stardom he'd envisioned.
In 2009, he was arrested for missed child support payments. Allen said Young's personal struggles are directly tied to his decision to enter the draft prematurely.
And that's why Allen supports the NBA's minimum-age requirement. He believes most players need college to develop the tools necessary to compete in the NBA. Even one season -- players must be 19 and a year removed from high school graduation -- will help, he said.
"I support it 110 percent," said Allen, who retired in March. "I know what the guys are trying to do for these kids. And I support it wholeheartedly because I have seen the evidence of letting them go too soon."
It's the same philosophy that David Stern adopted when he and the league's owners asked the players' union to approve an age limit in 2005 collective bargaining discussions. And it's the platform the commissioner has used to promote an even wider chasm that would potentially demand two years of college -- or an alternative pro opportunity -- before a player would be eligible for the draft.
It's less morality than money. The league's officials desire more time to evaluate prospects. Making the wrong choice has cost teams millions in wasted contracts.
The league and players' union didn't address the minimum-age requirement during the last round of collective bargaining last year. The league and union agreed on a 10-year contract, with both parties able to opt out six years into the deal.
But a discussion about altering the rule, which the players' association opposes, could begin much sooner.
"We would love to add a year, but that's not something that the players' association has been willing to agree to," Stern told reporters in April.
The NBA's decision will impact the college game. Now, top freshmen may leave for the pros after a year, and college coaches must decide if they're worth the short stay. Another year would add to the complexity of the one-and-done dilemma.
"I have not been shy about my displeasure with the one-and-done rule," NCAA president Mark Emmert told a gathering of the Associated Press Sports Editors in April. "And while people have tried to make it sound like David Stern and I are in great disagreement, we're not."
New ideas for draft eligibility could impact college game
College coaches share Emmert's sentiment. Many believe a rule change that would allow them to teach players for a minimum of two seasons could help the game. They've all adjusted to the "one and done" climate, but many have expressed displeasure with the minimum-age requirement's impact on college basketball.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and other premier coaches support a rule change that would give players two choices: go pro directly from high school or stay in school at least two years.
"The NBA age limit has had a dramatic effect on the college game," Krzyzewski wrote via email. "I still believe if a kid wanted to go out of high school, he should go out of high school. And if he comes to college, he should be here for two years. I don't think it's a good rule, one-and-done. But I would never want to deprive a great talent, if they didn't want to go to school, from going into the NBA. I think to make them go to school is a mistake for a limited amount of time."
In conversations about NBA draft reform, some college coaches reference the "baseball model." Players can get drafted directly from high school, but if they attend college, they must stay through their junior seasons or until they turn 21. Junior college players, such as Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, can skirt that rule. They're allowed to enter the draft regardless of how much time they've spent at the JC level.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently suggested that a three-year gap between high school and the NBA -- comparable to MLB's model -- would be a better plan for pro prospects and the NBA.
"It's not even so much about lottery busts," Cuban told ESPNDallas.com in April. "It's about kids' lives that we're ruining. Even if you're a first-round pick and you have three years of guaranteed money -- or two years now of guaranteed money -- then what? Because if you're a bust and it turns out you just can't play in the NBA, your 'Rocks for Jocks' one year of schooling isn't going to get you real far.
"I just don't think it takes into consideration the kids enough. Obviously, I think there's significant benefit for the NBA. It's not my decision to make, but that's my opinion on it."
"The Kentucky guys are the exception to the rule," said Rick Pitino, whose Louisville team lost to UK in the national semifinals. "They're guys that 80 percent could have gone out of high school and could have been great players."
But college coaches don't scratch those elite preps from their lists of recruiting targets. One year is better than none, they presume. So Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis attracted a variety of suitors even though they'd entered school with "one and done" tags.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said Durant never mentioned a desire to leave after one season when he talked to the 2007 Naismith winner and his family prior to his first and only year with the Longhorns. Barnes, however, knew it was a strong possibility. But he wasn't deterred.
"I don't know too many coaches that turn down talent," he said.
For now, college coaches must adjust to the status quo. The league's age requirement for prospects might not change for another decade, when the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire.
Even then, a return to a system that allows high school players to enter the draft seems unlikely.
And although there's talk of change, there aren't any guarantees.
"Why not get it done, then? I'll believe it when I see it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said about the possibility of a new minimum-age requirement for prospects entering the draft.
Players might not wait
Pitino worries that everything will change in 2016, regardless of what the NBA decides in the coming years. That's the year that academic standards will change for incoming freshmen.
The minimum GPA will move from 2.0 to 2.3, after the NCAA's Division I board of directors approved the new standards in May. Prospects will have to complete 10 of their 16 core classes by the time they start their senior seasons of high school. Forty percent of last season's freshman football players would not have qualified to compete based on the new standards, according to an NCAA study conducted in the fall.
The new standards will also impact SAT requirements, currently assessed on a sliding scale. An athlete with an SAT score of 820 will be required to achieve a 2.95 GPA in his core classes. Those who don't meet the new guidelines will be sidelined as "academic redshirts" during their first seasons.
And if it's tougher to qualify, Pitino said, high school players will consider their alternatives to college. They might go to Europe for a year. Or they could enter the NBDL.
Both are options now. But few players have chosen them.
"The ballgame changes in 2016," Pitino said. "You're going to see a mass exodus to overseas to get ready for the NBA."
Additional hurdles could also encourage one or more athletes to challenge the legality of the NBA's minimum-age requirement.
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the league's previous standard that blocked players from entering the draft until four years after high school graduation. Spencer Haywood, who'd signed a deal with the Seattle SuperSonics three years removed from high school, challenged the league on antitrust grounds and won. But he faced criticism from players and NBA officials for his pioneering effort.
"I went through hell," Haywood said.
Nevertheless, the ruling opened the door for talented underclassmen, such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, to turn pro before they'd graduated from college. It also allowed Kevin Garnett and dozens of high school players to skip college altogether and pursue pro careers.
When the league implemented a new minimum-age requirement in 2005, it skirted antitrust violations because it added the rule during collective bargaining with the players' union. Legal protections for collective bargaining maneuvering would make any legal fight -- think Spencer Haywood v. NBA 2.0 -- challenging.
"There is an exemption, under federal antitrust law, for union activity," said San Diego lawyer William Markham, who litigates antitrust lawsuits.
The ballgame changes in 2016. You're going to see a mass exodus to overseas to get ready for the NBA.” -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino
But that doesn't mean the league won't face a new fight.
Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at the University of Vermont Law School, helped Maurice Clarett in his unsuccessful bid to enter the 2004 NFL draft after his freshman season at Ohio State.
He's an opponent of the current age requirement for NBA draft picks and conducted a study 10 years ago that revealed four-year players and high school athletes faced similar struggles as they transitioned to the NBA.
"A lot of players, relatively high draft picks who played four years of college, have struggled," McCann said. "I think that's because the college game is so much different."
If the NBA moves toward a two-year rule for players coming out of high school, more players might consider challenging the NBA's minimum age requirement on legal grounds. Although Haywood challenged the NBA alone, today's climate and the union protection attached to the rule might require a class-action lawsuit to gain any traction in the courts, McCann said.
"In terms of the NBA, if it were two years, maybe we would see more players come forward, feeling like it's worth challenging the age limit," he said. "The fact that it's only one year, a lot of players probably calculate that it's not enough to file a lawsuit against the league."
Ron Allen isn't a lawyer.
He's just a former basketball coach with more than 30 years of experience.
He continues to caution young players to consider the plight of Korleone Young before they make decisions about their basketball futures. One year, two years, three years, four years. It doesn't matter, Allen said. College is beneficial to most players.
"I would tell them to be patient, go to school," he said.
For now, that still seems like the most logical option. For now, there doesn't seem to be much of a choice.
For now.More: Check out Jason King's lists of one-and-done stars and flops over at the Nation blog.
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