John Calipari’s 2012 Kentucky national championship team has changed the game of college basketball. With the draft rules for the National Basketball Association set up the way they are, the talent pool in the NCAA deflates quickly as freshmen flee for the draft. The great players do not leave a lasting mark in college like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did.
In 2005 when the NBA changed its eligibility rules so that a player must be a year removed from high school and at least 19 to go to the NBA, it changed college basketball. While these results were not predicted at the time, John Calipari has moved the needle in the last few years and validated his theory that a bunch of NBA bound college freshmen can beat a field of 68 teams with experienced veterans.
Basically, if Lebron James had come out of high school after the rule change, he would have been number one on Calipari’s recruitment list and perhaps he would have a relevant championship. Before this year, experience trumped this strategy, but Calipari found the right combination to come away a winner.
The Kentucky freshmen will be all over the 2012 NBA draft board. Anthony Davis looks to be the number one pick with his 14.2 points per game, 10.4 rebounds and defensive skills. Terrence Jones scored 12.3 points for the Wildcats this season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 11.9 points. Marquis Teague scored 10 points a game. Kentucky also had a Sophmore, Doron Lamb, and a junior, Darius Miller, who scored in double digits.
Men’s college basketball needs to find an identity that is more than a minor league for the NBA. The player arcs of college careers have been a major factor in the NCAA tournament’s success through the years, along with the buzzer beaters and the upsets. There were no buzzer beaters in this tournament and no huge underdogs or mid-majors made it very far in the tournament. The players are the only factor the NCAA can count on consistently. If fans are only watching them for one year, does that connection still exist?
The NBA has to change its eligibility rules. Allowing players to leave after high school is a better option than the current ‘one and done’ rule. A better alternative would be to give the players the option to either stay in college for three years like in baseball or go to the NBA directly after high school. The players could also be forced to stay in college for three years like in football. College basketball would be better without the lottery pick players if they are not committed to the college game.
This is not to discount John Calipari’s coaching. It took tremendous skill to turn freshmen into a national champion and Calipari should be commended. He saw a loophole in the system, exploited it and will continue to as long as the window is open. It’s up to the NCAA and the NBA to close the loophole.