PORTLAND – College basketball fans at the Moda Center were served a tasty dish on Saturday.
Too bad it will only be on the menu once. You can thank the NBA’s outdated and destructive “one-and-done” rule for that.
When presented on the same hardwood plate, the skills of Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell made for enticing cuisine.
Johnson brought a hearty mix of power and pizzazz. The 6-foot-7, 245 pound freshman played with the strength of a forward and agility of a guard.
Russell added speed, a few delicious passes and a dash of swagger. Earlier this season, he explained why he wears No. 0.
“Zero people can guard me,” Russell said.
The high stakes of the NCAA Tournament spiced everything up.
Too bad that’s the only time Russell and Johnson will clash in college. And there’s no chance either will stoke a rivalry with Kentucky star Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke phenom Jahlil Okafor over multiple NCAA Tournaments.
Each of those freshmen will likely be in the NBA next season.
Good for them. Bad for college basketball.
The one-and-done rule says players must play one season of college hoops or be 19 years old before entering the NBA draft. It has laid waste to the college game without really helping the NBA.
The best players are gone before they even learn their way around campus. At NBA feeder programs like Kentucky, they make a mockery of the term “student athlete.”
Also gone are the personalities and grudge matches that used to make college hoops great reality television. No more Fab Five of Michigan against Duke with Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley.
ESPN recently aired a documentary that addressed one question: Why do people hate Laettner? Today’s players don’t stick around long enough for college hoops fans to love or hate them.
Fans now only cheer the names on the front of the jersey, not the back.
It’s frustrating because a solution exists that would benefit college basketball, the NBA and players. The NBA should adopt the same policy Major League Baseball has with its draft.
Under that policy, a player can chase his professional dreams straight out of high school. But those who choose to play in college must wait three years before entering the draft.
Players can even choose the college route after being drafted if they aren’t picked as high as they had hoped. That would especially be wise in basketball, which is littered with heartbreaking stories.
Led by bad advice, financial desperation or overinflated expectations, players hoping to hit the NBA Lottery lose their shirt and a chance at a college education.
So why doesn’t pro basketball have this model? Simply, the NBA and the NBA Players Association can’t see the forest-wide benefits because are too busy fighting over individual trees.
The NBA is actually pushing for players to be in college a minimum of two years. When one-and-done was created in 2005, the league was being flooded with highly-paid 18-year-olds drafted on potential alone. For every LeBron James, there were three Kwame Browns.
But one-and-done has hardly stopped NBA general managers from making bad decisions and throwing money at players who don’t pan out.
The union, meanwhile, wants no restrictions to when players can begin making a living. Under the baseball model, superstars with undeniable first-round talent could still chase their fortune right out of high school. But others would blossom in college, become household names and have more earning power upon entering the NBA.
Both see the issue as a bargaining chip they don’t want to give up. Meanwhile, young athletes and basketball fans lose.
That’s why one-and-done should be done and gone.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@Columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice .