March Madness over; now for some real madness
Now that March Madness is over, we can move on to the real madness.
We're talking about the ludicrous system that the pros and colleges conspired on to make prep stars spend an extra year passing themselves off as students, denying them the chance to start playing hoops for a living right out of high school.
They wind up holding nationally televised spectacles to announce where they'll pretend to go to college next season. Decisions are made on where's the best place to run some pick-and-rolls, pull off a few spectacular dunks and maybe win a championship before getting on to the real task at hand: making it big in the NBA.
Since the NBA and the NCAA can't even agree when that is — they're bickering over dueling deadlines for players to declare themselves eligible for the draft — this seems like a good time to scrap this farce of a system altogether.
Two of the latest victims, I mean, two of the latest crop of top prep stars — Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel — made their announcements Wednesday night. Muhammad went first, picking UCLA over his other finalists, Duke and Kentucky.
"I choose to be a Bruin," Muhammad said. "So I'll be at UCLA next year."
Though he very well could spend the next four years in school, he tellingly made no commitment beyond that.
Noel went an hour later — wow, the announcement show was more drawn out than LeBron James' "Decision" — and revealed Kentucky was his team. In keeping with the over-the-top nature of the whole affair, he turned for the cameras to show the "UK" logo shaved into the back of his high fade haircut.
What a surprise: Kentucky landed another top recruit.
Wildcats coach John Calipari has perfected the one-and-done system — now known as won-and-done — that everyone has played by since 2005. Noel clearly expects to step in for All-American center Anthony Davis, likely headed to the NBA after a season in Lexington.
"I watched what they did with Anthony Davis," Noel said. "My mom thought it was the best fit for me, and I did too. So I went with that."
More than likely, he's already envisioning how he'll be following Davis again a year from now — right to the NBA.
But really, if a kid is truly serious about getting an education, he should commit to a school for a minimum of three years — just like they do in college baseball. If he wants to go to the NBA, that's fine too. The door should be open as soon as he picks up his high school diploma.
Don't count on any changes, though.
For everyone beyond the kids, the status quo is working fine.
NBA Commissioner David Stern actually wants to increase the age limit from 19 to 20, ensuring a player has to spend two years in college whether he wants to or not — development time that would further reduce the chance of a team making a huge mistake on draft day (see: Kwame Brown) and delaying a player's progression to the really big money beyond entry level contracts.
"This is a not a social program. This is a business rule for us," Stern conceded recently, showing a lot more forthrightness than the NCAA ever does.
The colleges would certainly go along with a two-and-done proposal to ensure themselves of an additional year of free labor from the best players, undoubtedly boosting their own bottom line even it forced them to pay a bit more attention to that whole academics thing. As it stands now, the top recruits barely have to find their way to class.
The NCAA has shown its true colors again by attempting to push up the deadline by more than two months for players to decide whether they'll be bolting campus — a move the organization tried to sugarcoat by saying it keeps players focused on academics (yeah, right) when its true intention was to give coaches a chance to start restocking their rosters with the next wave of early entry candidates.
Granted, a player can certainly benefit from spending a year in college. But is college really necessary for someone who has no intention of opening a book, who already has one eye on the NBA as soon as he steps on the quad?
Many of the leading prospects already leave home while in high school, going off to play for elite prep schools that travel the country playing games, just like they do in college. Those experiences — combined with opportunities to hone their games in sophisticated AAU programs — certainly raise questions about how much a player really benefits from a single season at a university.
Sure, Brown didn't live up to expectations after going straight from high school to the NBA as the top overall pick in 2001. But what about James? And Dwight Howard? And Kobe Bryant? They all took the same route, and it seems to have worked out just fine for them.
While Calipari is a convenient whipping boy for a broken system, that sentiment is misguided. He's simply playing the hand he was dealt better than any other coach.
He's already making plans to replace Davis and his other freshmen stars, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, along with sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
"I don't know if they're all going," Calipari said on ESPNU's announcement show. "But if I was betting man, and if they all have the opportunity to be first-round picks, they probably will."
Cold and calculating, but he's hardly the only coach working the system. Everyone wants to put a halo on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, while conveniently forgetting that Kyrie Irving played a grant total of 11 games for the Blue Devils (he was sidelined much of his freshman year by a foot injury) before moving on to become the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland last year.
Coach K may be quite the Svengali, but it's doubtful he had much impact on Irving's draft status or his stellar play as a rookie for the rebuilding Cavaliers.
Just imagine if this was Irving's second year in the NBA.
He should've had the choice.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963