Literally the first image in a Google search for “modern basketball recruiting.”
With the draft looming this Thursday, and the inevitability of an early Wildcat selection, ESPN took a look yesterday at the changing recruiting culture. Gone are the days of promising playing time, apparently; now elite (and even just “good”) players are looking ahead to the draft. Can this school get them drafted? Does that one want them to stay past their freshman year? These are the questions that coaches are pressed with from high schoolers, and high school parents, and it’s never more apparent than draft night, where the earliest picks are getting younger and younger.
But as with any conversation about recruiting, of course, Kentucky is somewhere near the heart. Beloved Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has highlighted Kentucky’s role in, and lamented the change of modern recruiting:
There’s no question that the Kentucky phenomenon — and it is a phenomenon — has changed it, and the funny part is, John doesn’t even like it. But it’s a factor. Every kid thinks he’s one of them, and there are only 30 first-round picks. Sometimes, I almost feel sorry for kids. They’re worrying about the goal and forgetting the journey, and the fun is in the journey.
There’s no better point of comparison for how recruiting at Kentucky has changed over the last twenty years than, well, Kentucky twenty years ago. If you want proof that the game is fundamentally different now, take a look at how Mashburn and his family handled going pro:
Twenty years ago, Pitino had to convince Helen Mashburn that her son, Jamal, needed to leave college a year early. Helen was adamant that he finish his degree at Kentucky and hold off one more year on the NBA. Pitino talked her into letting him leave college.
Sound a little different? We all know that Cal doesn’t go in “selling” the NBA necessarily. He sells “Players First,” and a commitment to education for as long as you’re in school. But even if you don’t sell the NBA, your track record matters, and so far, Cal and Kentucky have the best modern track record.
Is the change to recruiting good? Not really. Cal wants the NBA rule to be different, and coaches and GMs would probably want more time to look at players. Then again, how fair is it to tell an adult when they can become a professional? And what happens to the kid who gets hurt playing a second or third year in college because he couldn’t go pro when he wanted? Insurance might cover a contract, but it won’t cover a career. But it’s currently a year, and like it or not, players will have to handle those 12 months the best they know how. And sometimes, it might take more than a year. And that’s fine.
Believe it or not, Boeheim might have summed it up best:
The more you think about [getting to the NBA], the longer it takes you. If it takes you one year, two, three, that’s all OK. But if you help your team, if your team does well, you’ll do well.
As long as Kentucky, and Coach Cal, focus on performing well in Lexington, all the other pieces will almost certainly fall together. In the midst of a tumultuous recruiting landscape, with the mountainous NBA draft looming on the horizon, that’s all you can really ask.