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The Evolution of One-and-Done, and How it Will Decide the National Champion

By Matt Craig
Many of the contenders for the NCAA Championship rely on teenagers who will never suit up for their school again after next weekend. Take a close look at how this trend started, and why.

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If we learned anything from the Sweet Sixteen, it’s that you probably shouldn’t be talking trash to Kentucky. Sure it’s great that you want to be confident and think you can win, but seriously guys, it was the worst mistake of Daxter Miles Jr’s young playing career. His stat line: 0 points, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 rebound, and his team was so utterly decimated that Kentucky got tired of dunking on them and started dunking on each other.

It’s fitting too that Miles is a freshman, because he’s young and reckless and immature and doesn’t know at this point that there are people out there who are much MUCH better at basketball than him. I’m sure he was able to back up the smack talk he talked in high school, but Thursday night he met the kids next door, and they are the baddest boys on the block.

The freshmen on the other end of the floor however, those Kentucky Wildcats, those baddest boys on the block, those same 19 year old kids, are the clear favorites to win a national title next weekend, and then cash in big this summer for millions of dollars. Calipari has explicitly told us that his season does not end until June 25th, the day of the NBA Draft.

Calipari has explicitly told us that his season does not end until June 25th, the day of the NBA Draft.

But Kentucky is not the only ones employing the services of these “rentals;” most notably Arizona and Duke are hoping to use their one-year superstar to bring back national titles this year, as Coach K himself readily admits that he recruited Jahil Okafor knowing he was a One and Done guy.

One thing is certain. Whether Kentucky wins or not, this year’s national championship is going to be decided by a bunch of 19 year old “one-and-doners.”

The Good Ol’ Days of Pre-One and Done2kg

Starting in 2005, two years after Lebron James was drafted No. 1 over all as a high schooler, the NBA made a rule stating that athletes had to be one full year out of high school in order to be eligible for the NBA draft, forever changing the college basketball landscape.

In order to see the drastic change over the last 10 years of college basketball, let’s go back to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, or the last year before this rule was put into place. The Final Four consisted of Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina, and Michigan State.

I’m going to bold all of the upperclassmen so you don’t miss the point: that every Final Four team was led by a group of strong upperclassmen.

Louisville had four players averaging double figures, two seniors and two juniors. They had one player leave for the draft, junior Francisco Garcia, who was drafted 23rd.

Michigan State also had four players averaging 10 or more, with one senior, two juniors and sophomore Shannon Brown (who had a long, successful NBA career and appeared in games with the Heat last year even). They didn’t have any players leave early (including Brown, a surefire first-rounder), and senior Alan Anderson would go undrafted.

Illinois played in the championship game, led by Deron Williams (Jr.), Dee Brown (Jr.), James Augustine (Jr.), and Luther Head (Sr.). All four men were drafted, 3rd, 46th, 41st, and 24th respectively.

North Carolina won the championship behind household names like Raymond Felton (Jr.), Sean May (Jr.), Rashad McCants (Jr.) and Marvin Williams (Fr.). All four men were drafted in the top 14 picks of the draft, which in the pre-Calipari era was actually impressive and out of the ordinary believe it or not.

All four men were drafted in the top 14 picks of the draft, which in the pre-Calipari era was actually impressive and out of the ordinary believe it or not.

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The truth is, that some kids know from a very young age that they are going to be basketball superstars. You couldn’t mold more perfect athlete bodies than Lebron James’s or Dwight Howard’s out of clay, and the combination of being close to seven feet tall and close to forty inch verticals has proven to be the trump card for just about any skill level of player.

While it’s not exactly pointless for me personally to take math classes as a telecommunications major, it’s about as useful as scuba diving classes in Indiana (Ball State actually offers those by the way, for those interested). In the same way, it’s not pointless for Lebron James to widen his knowledge of foreign policy of the UN, it’s far from essential to how he is going to be putting bread on the table for his family.

However, from a basketball standpoint, it takes a very special type of kid to be ready to play in the NBA as a high schooler. And I’m not arguing that it’s the best decision for these young stars (in fact I’ve written several papers on why they shouldn’t make the jump), and I know that for every one successful case of a Kobe or Dwight there’s two of kids who made the jump and didn’t have successful careers, which basically ruined their life.

But my point is this, before 2005, you didn’t see many kids making the jump from high school to the pros. In that 2005 draft, there were three high schoolers taken in the first round. I’ll even throw in Marvin Williams, who was a one-and-doner before the term or the rule even existed, bringing the grand total of “leap-before-you-lookers” to four.

It’s amazing really. Whenever the choice was up the athletes, few decided to enter the NBA as a teenager, and many stayed 3 or even 4 years at their respective colleges. But woah, tell me I can’t leave as early as I want to and suddenly I want to leave as early as I can.

By the 2007 draft, eight of the first 21 picks off the board were freshman who had left school after the minimum amount of time. It’s funny how many people want to do something once they are told they can’t do it anymore.

 It’s funny how many people want to do something once they are told they can’t do it anymore.

Ever heard of Javaris Crittenton? Didn’t think so. He was selected 19th that year after one year at Georgia Tech. Only played four seasons in the NBA.

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How the Beast Was Fed

Everyone likes to dismiss the one and done issue with one word: money. And there is no doubt that money is a huge factor in the decisions that these kids are making. However, I don’t think these athletes are as dumb or selfish as we make them out to be. I can see several other factors at play, some of which may be subconscious.

One thing we can all agree on is that these young studs are competitive. And there’s no doubt that this translates off of the basketball court as well, and could be a factor in the decision-making process. I think that they almost look at all of these guys that have successfully pulled off the one and done and say, “I’m better than those dudes!” so it almost turns into a challenge.

The other big change from generations past is that kids don’t grow up dreaming of college basketball competition, or cutting down nets in March. McDonald’s All Americans are expecting to play in the NBA. That is the dream, that is the goal. It’s no real secret that young African American kids follow the NBA diligently and almost exclusively, watching college ball mostly for prospects that could be stars in the upcoming draft.

The other big change from generations past is that kids don’t grow up dreaming of college basketball competition, or cutting down nets in March.

So what happens once college coaches figure this out, and turn it into a recruiting pitch? Well look no further than Calipari and Krzyzewski (yes I had to look up how to spell that). While Calipari has openly criticized the one and done rule, and instead said he chooses to call it “succeed and proceed,” the Kentucky program has transformed into an unpaid D-League team, providing a minor league environment for NBA teams to scout and poach talent from.

I can almost hear those words being used in the living room of some blue chip recruit’s home, “succeed and proceed.” Calipari is running a new kind of system, where the team does not matter nearly as much as the individual players. Come here, he would say, and develop with other NBA prospects, and it will speed your development by several years. Just work on your game every day, improve, and the scouts will be watching every step of the way.

Really no surprise that once Cal got enough of those guys, they have a pretty good team. And Kentucky is vying for a national championship.

Duke Gets In on the Action

eef9d168b442bc34322c2df9c2e0de75e2378507You think Cal’s tactics went unnoticed? Duke transformed their entire program structure.

The 2010 championship will forever stand as the last true Duke championship, powered by seniors John Scheyer and Brian Zoubek and junior Nolan Smith. However, freshman like Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, and Ryan Kelley were the X factor for the team. Coach K had gotten a taste, and he was addicted.

 Coach K had gotten a taste, and he was addicted.

For three out of the next four years (2013 was the exception), the reigns of the teams were handed to one and doners who would go on to be top 10 picks (Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers, and Jabari Parker), in hopes that he could build up enough credibility to sell the Calipari recruiting pitch. Landing Parker was the tipping point.

The program couldn’t shed it’s “four year identity” because recruits were under the impression that the staff would try to convince them to stay. However, with Parker, they showed that they could sign someone who was a guaranteed one and doner, as well as give him the minutes and freedom to do really whatever he wants.

Now that Krzyzewski has transformed Duke into Kentucky 2.0, the recruits responded. This year’s class features three almost sure one and doners, who combine for over half of the team’s overall point production. And Duke is vying for a national championship.

It won’t be long before any school with enough influence and credibility will attempt to play the one and done game. And why wouldn’t they? These men have proven that it works. And for programs who can’t compete with their recruiting pitches, you better believe money could begin (maybe has begun) changing hands in order to land these guys.

Potential versus NBA Ready

But do you want to know the biggest reason why the one and done system has become so prevalent? It’s a fundamental change in how NBA teams draft their talent.

Kids wouldn’t be leaving school if they weren’t being selected in the top 10 picks every year in the draft. Yet as we have already proven, since the one and done rule, these teenagers are becoming the most highly valued prospects. This is because the NBA has changed into a system of valuing potential over NBA readiness.

There’s no doubt that NBA players have gotten bigger, stronger, and faster in recent years. The new “pace and space” offensive tactics that have been adopted by nearly every team call for more running up and down than ever before, and defenses have responded by playing more physically. The combination is leading to more wear and tear on the players, shortening the length of careers and number of “prime” years.

Teams have responded with a huge emphasis on young talent due to their durability and potential. That’s the other key, potential. Training methods and workout regimens are more effective than ever before, leading teams to take chances on raw athletes because they are confident that their staff can mold the youngsters into studs down the road.

Over time, young athletes started to figure this out. If age is actually one of the biggest determining factors on draft day, then they are actually hurting their draft stock the longer they stay in school. NBA teams think that if they take in a kid at 19 years old, they can develop him to be a better NBA player in four years than playing four years in college would’ve. And maybe they are right, but a lot of these kids aren’t ready to play against NBA competition, and can use this new fascination with youth as an excuse to make a quick buck.

If age is actually one of the biggest determining factors on draft day, then they are actually hurting their draft stock the longer they stay in school. 

Don’t believe me? Here’s the best example I can think of: Shaquille O’Neal played for LSU three seasons, from 1989-1992. As a sophomore he averaged 27.6 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 5.0 blocks. AND HE CAME BACK FOR HIS JUNIOR SEASON. SERIOUSLY, CHECK THIS OUT. What??? Let’s zoom ahead to 2014, when Zach LaVine was drafted after averaging just 24.4 MINUTES per game as a freshman (9.4 points, 2.4 rebs, 1.8 ast). Ridiculous.

Now let’s say that LaVine stays all four years. Suddenly scouts have had enough time to see that he’s actually not a very talented basketball player and at 22 years old (now considered “prime” years of your NBA career) he isn’t going to make it in the NBA. He declares for the draft, doesn’t get drafted, and ends up in the D League, where the average salary is $19,000, which is pretty close to slave labor.

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Rewind and let’s play this the way it’s actually going. LaVine left after not proving anything at UCLA, so scouts didn’t get a chance to see what kind of player he really is. What they did see however was his combine performance, including a 46 inch vertical leap (pause, that’s insanely impressive). Due to his raw athleticism combined with his 19 year old-ness (brand new statistic), LaVine was drafted 13th in the draft. That lands him over $2 million this year, and a guaranteed $2.1 million next year. Now that’s how you play the system.

Still think these kids are just greedy? No, this LaVine kid is smart. Thanks to the fact that he is now in the NBA, and because most stars don’t want to compete, LaVine was asked to be in the dunk contest. And he put on a show. This doesn’t make him a better basketball player, but it does make him a fan favorite, which could convince the team to exercise their team option and keep him on board for the next two years in order to help sell some seats, netting LaVine an additional $5.5 million.

Some people will tell you that the option is there for these kids to skip college and make money by playing overseas for a year, like Emmanuel Mudiay and his $1 million contract for this year in China before being a top 10 pick in this summer’s draft. However, his lack of competition in China combined with his lack of exposure to scouting and the general public’s adoration has led to his slide down draft boards, from competing for #1 to potentially being outside the top 5.

So you think this is going anywhere? I shutter to think what college basketball could look like in five years. There’s a doomsday scenario in my head in which every team is pimped out, loaded with talented freshmen who will never reach their potential.

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Remember when college coaches used to not care what the NBA was doing, and the coaches and players were just focused on winning championships? Wow, ignorance was bliss. All it took were a few smart guys like Calipari and Coach K to figure this whole thing out, and the game has changed forever.

There are only three things I can promise you.

1) This crop of talented young players will decide this year’s NCAA champion next weekend in Indianapolis, win lose or draw.

2) Most of them will never suit up for their respective colleges again.

3) They’ll be millionaires before the age by which they are allowed to legally drink.

So drink up America, and enjoy these kids in the NCAA Tournament while you still can.

About Matt Craig (68 Articles)
Chirp City Founder & Director of Content. Hey Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, hire me.

2 Comments on The Evolution of One-and-Done, and How it Will Decide the National Champion

  1. Quite a shame but spot on. You can’t blame the coaches. They’re simply “exploiting”, I mean playing by the rules the NBA has put in place.
    As in many things, it’s the unintended consequences that really screw up the future.
    BTW – does Verne Lundquist wear a Michigan State TShirt underneath his suit. He was most assuredly rooting for Sparty last night as he was “calling” the game. Boomer Sooner!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt Craig // March 28, 2015 at 5:50 pm // Reply

      True that the coaches are merely playing by the rules they are given, but maybe they could look like they are enjoying it a little bit less!
      As for Lundquist, there’s no doubt he was biased! But it was an incredible game to watch (maybe on mute).

      Like

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