If you cover college basketball like I, and everyone who works at KSR does, you’re forced to have an opinion on a couple different college hoops related topics. Is Duke back or not? Is Bill Self’s hair real or fake? Does Rick Pitino regret his 2013 national championship lower back tattoo?
But above all, there are two topics that you will absolutely, positively end up discussing whether you want to or not. Those two topics: The one and done rule, and America’s favorite basketball dad, Lavar Ball. Believe me when I say that there are no exceptions. These topics will always be hot debate points.
And ironically, over the last two days, those two topics have come together in the most fascinating way possible. Let me explain.
Let’s start with the one and done rule, because for years I’ve heard virtually every media member in the country pick apart the rule and talk about how bad it is. I for one love the rule (as I’ve written before) and think that it’s a good barrier for young basketball players and the pros. Simply put, if you can’t hack it in one year of college basketball, there’s a very, VERY good chance (with a few exceptions) that you’re probably not ready to head off to the NBA. Because of it, I also think having the one and done in place has helped a lot of kids make smarter decisions about their futures. Some still leave college for the pros as soon as they can, and for some, it’s the right decision. But many more get to college and realize they need to stay for two or three years to get things right.
Yet while the one and done has seemingly been a success, it feels like most of the national media disagrees with me. They call the rule un-American. They say it’s unconstitutional. They say that if a player doesn’t want to go to school, and wants to skip college they have every right to (whatever that means).
Therefore I couldn’t help but find it interesting when those same people crushed Lavar Ball on Monday night. By now most of you know what Lavar did to earn their scorn, as he decided to pull his middle son LiAngelo out of UCLA, and get him ready for the NBA Draft. The sad thing is, that Lavar appears to be the only who realizes that LiAngelo (unlike his older brother Lonzo) isn’t actually an NBA prospect. There isn’t a single mock draft on the internet that has him projected as even a second round NBA Draft choice. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said that no team in the NBA even has him in their database of players they are tracking.
Ex-UCLA freshman LiAngelo Ball has no chance that he'll be drafted in June — and that was true before his shoplifting incident in China. "He's not on any of our scouting lists — even the extended lists," one GM told ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 4, 2017
Of course that tiny fact – you know, that he has no future in the NBA – didn’t stop Lavar from pulling LiAngelo out of school. It also didn’t stop all of the national media for completely ripping Lavar because of it. Virtually every outlet online said that he was “ruining” his son’s future by removing him from UCLA. Just as an example, CBS Sports called Lavar’s actions “sad and detrimental.” (For the record, I like the CBS Sports writer who wrote that line. I respect his opinions on college hoops, even if I disagree).
But while everyone in America was busy ripping Lavar, I’ve got one simple question: How can you be in favor of removing the one and done rule, in favor of kids (regardless of how good they are) having a choice about their future, and the opportunity to go pro out of high school, but also crush Lavar Ball in the process? Didn’t Lavar make the decision that every media member has been demanding more athletes and their families make? To choose basketball over school if that’s what they believe fits them best?
It seems so, and with the news today from Yahoo Sports that Lavar has actually begun looking for a landing spot for LiAngelo overseas, that’s why I’ve decided to write today. Not because I agree with Lavar’s decision (I hate any parent making a decision for their 19-year-old kid), but to tie these two stories together. Because while there is only one Lavar Ball, the media manipulating, larger than life character that is following around by TMZ and CNN, there are a lot of parents across America just like him. And I believe if we remove the one and done rule, there will be a lot of Lavar Ball’s and LiAngelo Ball’s scattered across the basketball landscape. There will be lots of kids who make bad decisions, or parents who push them to do things that aren’t in their best interests.
You know why? Because as I just mentioned, there are a lot of Lavar Ball’s out there. Not parents exactly like him (certainly none that have CNN on speed dial) but plenty who think their kids are better at basketball than they actually are. There are also a lot of adults (parents, AAU coaches, outside influences) who ultimately make decisions for kids which they think are in their own best interests. In the current one and done era, that involves recruiting decisions (think Marques Bolden at Duke), but also the decisions to transfer and in a lot of cases go pro. I can’t tell you how many coaches I talk to who say to me routinely “the kid wanted to stay here, but the parents forced him out.” Now obviously all parents aren’t bad (SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker did a great piece on P.J. Washington’s dad today), but plenty are out of touch. Even if they don’t yell and scream and clamor for the camera like Lavar.
And really that’s my fear for the future of amateur, college and professional basketball. How many Lavar Ball’s are there out there? And how many will make short-term decisions that will impact the rest of a kid’s life? I know that most people think if we remove the one and done rule it will only be handful of kids who go pro, but honestly, I think it will be many, many more. That’s just the culture of basketball these days. There are a lot of kids (and their families) who think they’ll be the exception, the three-star, Top 100 prospect who will make it big in the NBA. History says they won’t.
To give you an example, let me tell you a little story about an AAU event I went to a few summers ago. Hopefully this story hammers home the point, and helps explain why I’ve been so against the removal of the one and done rule. By the way, I told the story earlier today on the debut of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, so I apologize if it gets a tiny bit repetitive here (you can listen to the podcast by clicking here, by the way).
To give you some details, I was at this event a few years ago, and struck up a conversation with the father of a four-star recruit, a kid who is currently a freshman in college basketball (I won’t use the kid’s name because I don’t want to put him out publicly like that). The kid was pretty good, a Top 50 or so recruit, not the type that would ever get a scholarship offer from a Kentucky or Arizona, but instead the next level below (think Purdue, Florida, Wake Forest type school – although that’s not where he ended up). And after the dad and I spoke for a few minutes, I asked him where his son was thinking about going to college.
His answer stunned me.
“We’re trying to go to whatever school can get us to that green room the fastest,” the father said.
First of all, I thought the “we” was a little bit much, if only because, well, I didn’t know the dad was being recruited by any major college basketball programs (sarcasm alert: He wasn’t). More importantly, I was blown away by the undertone of the dad’s comments. He was basically saying that he wanted his son to get to the college that would get him to the pros as fast as possible.
There was just one problem: The pros weren’t seriously looking at him as an NBA prospect then or now. At the time, he was a Top 50 recruit, not even good enough to be named a McDonald’s All-American and things haven’t really changed since. As I mentioned, that kid is currently a freshman at a Power 5 school. He’s averaging a little over eight points per game and isn’t on any mock draft boards for either 2018 or 2019 that I’m aware of. Yet, from before he even started college, his father was looking for the fastest way to get him out of there, even though there’s a chance he won’t ever play in the NBA period.
By the way, did I mention… HE’S AVERAGING EIGHT POINTS A GAME THIS SEASON! AND HIS DAD WANTED HIM OUT OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE?
Again, if you thought Lavar Ball was the only one that thinks the way Lavar Ball does, think again.
And ultimately, that’s the point of this all: Not to say whether Lavar is right or wrong, but for everyone to understand that there are a lot of people out there like him. It’s also for people to understand what’s at stake when the one and done rule is removed.
It sets up a scenario for a lot of kids and the adults they trust to make bad decisions, and potentially put their short-term and long-term futures at risk.
I hope the national media thinks of that, and thinks of Lavar and LiAngelo Ball the next time they clamor for the removal of the one and done rule.
Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”