It’s been a tumultuous few months for those of us who love college basketball. Since the FBI probe hit in September it feels inevitable that change is coming to the sport, and it also seems like that change has slowly trickled out all spring and summer long. In April we got the release of the Condoleezza Rice Commission findings. And a few weeks ago we got details on how the NCAA plans to put those findings into place, with the announcement that undrafted players were allowed to return to school and others were allowed to hire agents. As it turned out those findings weren’t quite all they were made out to be. And you knew there would be something else that eventually came down the pipe.
Well that next step came on Wednesday. Unlike the release from the NCAA a few weeks ago in which it seemed like no one (not the NBA, USA Basketball etc. were alerted prior to the announcement) this one came via Team USA Basketball, and it is much more comprehensive. For the first time, all of the major entities in youth basketball – Team USA, the NBA, NBA Players Association and USA Basketball – have announced that they are working together on a new youth basketball initiative.
The goal? Find the Top 20 or so players in each high school class and start giving them the life skills necessary to have success once they get to the NBA.
It also feels like the first tangible step to remove the one-and-done rule.
We’ll get to that in a second. But first, here is the official release from Team USA:
USA Basketball today announced plans to collaborate with the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the expansion of its Men’s Junior National Team program to include additional training camps and year-round player development programming, with focuses on health and wellness and life skills.
Through the expansion, USA Basketball’s Junior National Team will build on its existing basketball development program to provide unprecedented on- and off-court player development opportunities for more than 80 top U.S. high school players.
Approximately 20 athletes from each high school class will participate in six training camps and competitions throughout the 2018-19 calendar year, including the first Junior National Team minicamp for players from all high school grades from Oct. 5-7 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Now with that, I probably know what you’re thinking: Cut through the mumbo-jumbo, Torres. What does it all mean? And how does it impact college basketball forward?
So for starters, this is a big deal because it is in fact the first time that all the major stake holders in basketball (USA Basketball, the NCAA and NBA) are working together to work with kids, starting from the youth level straight to the NBA. The goal is to give them the life skills to cope with transitioning straight from high school to being a professional – if you read the release, it sounds like they will be getting mental health training, money management, things like that.
Therefore, if you’ll allow me to use a bad analogy, think of this program like air traffic control at an airport. The goal of air traffic control is to take the plane from lift off to a smooth landing with no bumps in between, right? Well that’s exactly what this program is, with “lift off” being a player’s high school years and “landing” being the NBA.
Here's a link to the full release from USA Basketball that breaks down the partnership with NBA, NBPA & the NCAA | Link: https://t.co/HlTAOYtJhl
— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) August 29, 2018
The other important element here, is the number of kids in this program, which is 80. Do the simple math and that’s 20 kids per year from 9th through 12th grade.
So why is that number such a big deal? It appears USA Basketball is identifying those 20 kids per grade as the ones who will have both the life skills off the court, and basketball skills on the court to go straight from high school to the NBA. Yes, it probably means that the Top 20 or so players in every high school class will skip college basketball and go straight to the NBA. That’s obviously a bummer for those of us who love college basketball, but believe me, there will still be plenty of talent flowing into college basketball. For example, Tyler Herro wasn’t a Top 20 recruit in this class, but instead a Top 30-40 guy. In theory he wouldn’t have been in this program and would likely end up in college. And as everyone knows, Herro is still a stud who is going to be fun to watch this season. On the opposite end, with the Top 20 or so kids going pro out of high school, it also makes it more likely that good college players will return for two, three and four years. For those of you who hate the transient nature of the sport, this should provide some stability.
More importantly however, this program should also have the reverse effect at the high school level. It should keep the players who aren’t elite from making bad decisions.
That’s because -as I’ve written about many times – the one thing that I’ve feared since the NBA started seriously discussing the removal of the one-and-done rule, is that the folks in the league office don’t understand how much the landscape of the sport has changed. Back 10 or 12 years ago (before the one and done rule), it was understood that only the top handful of players would go straight from high school to the NBA. But now, more and more the goal for players is to get to the pros as quickly as possible whether they’re ready or not. Don’t believe me? Never forget that we had over 200 underclassmen declare for the draft this year. As you probably remember, few of them were ready and most ended up returning.
So if a couple hundred kids who actually played college basketball last year thought they were ready, can you imagine the hundreds across high school basketball who think they are? That’s also why this program is so important. If you’re not in this program, the implied message is “Get your butt to college.” While I’ve been critical of Adam Silver and the NBA it seems clear that they saw how problematic it would be to simply open the doors to all high school kids and say “Anyone who wants to turn pro can!” and this will help keep that from happening. For the record, this is also the system John Calipari has been advocating for. Again, I’m glad the NBA is listening.
And while no system is perfect, this seems like a best-case scenario for just everyone involved. The truly elite high school players can go pro, but won’t be sent to the NBA and given millions with no direction on how to spend, invest, or in general just act like a “professional.” The kids that aren’t ready will get the message and go to college. College coaches won’t spend years recruiting kids who will never end up in college. I also think this could be good for college basketball as well, where it’s more likely that players will stay for more than one season.
Ultimately there are still a few things that need to be figured out. What happens with a fast-rising player who isn’t initially identified by this program as a 9th or 10th grader (like say Anthony Davis a few years back)? Do they get excluded? Or if they become elite, will they be integrated into the program? Also, with Team USA Basketball in charge, what about foreign players? What happens to the likes of a Ben Simmons (Australia), R.J. Barrett (Canada) or Jamal Murray (Canada)? It remains to be seen.
Still, these are minor questions, and things that will eventually be figured out. With rumors that the one-and-done rule won’t change until 2021 or 2022 at the earliest, there is plenty of time to iron out all the details.
Instead, this is a first step, and a good one.
It will be good for the NBA. Good for college basketball. And most of all, good for the kids.