If you haven’t heard, Jalen Green is jumping straight from high school to the G League to play basketball. Oh, and apparently college basketball is ruined.

Wrong.

College basketball will be just fine.

There will be a handful of high level talent that take advantage of the NBA’s new offer. Some will not. Some will value the exposure and structure they will get from playing a season of college basketball. Eventually the “one and dones” will decrease with the inception of the rule allowing the NBA to draft elite players straight out of high school.

College basketball will be just fine.

Jay Bilas, one of the smartest commentators on any sport, made his point in this tweet.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or Bilas, to know that is true. Better players obviously make the sport better. The article Bilas is replying to is by Dan Wolken, an excellent sports columnist for USA Today. In the column Wolken correctly points out that the quality of play back in the days of Ewing, Jordan, Worthy, Mullin, Perkins, et al. was far better than today. That’s because those guys were all there for three or four years.

The last sentence of Bilas’ tweet states that we need to provide incentives for players to choose college. In theory, I agree with that thought. However, playing college sports makes you a student athlete. “One and done” players like Zion Williamson and Kevin Durant, just to name two, are hardly students while spending their one and only year on campus. So we can provide incentives for these elite players to choose college over the G League or overseas, but what is to prevent them from turning the student part of student-athlete into a mockery?

Most of these “one and dones” will take some general education classes their first semester, then play out their season and do the bare minimum necessary to stay eligible throughout the season. Every college athlete, even after spending four years on campus, doesn’t earn a degree. However, the intent was in place. “One and done” players have no intent.

Not going to college isn’t an indictment on anyone. College isn’t for everyone. Trade schools, the military, and the work force are more attractive options for many young people. College basketball players are no different. Some of them have no interest in sitting through lectures from a rambling professor. I hated a lot of those lectures, too. That isn’t some affirmation that they are “too dumb” for college. It just means they have other plans or want to follow a different path.

So, let them follow that path. Certainly the $500,000 payment plan the G League is offering will provide plenty of incentive for some of these elite players. Many come from poor socioeconomic environments and will see that money as a quicker way out of the doldrums for themselves and their family.

Plenty of really good players will choose the college option to hone their skills, hoping it provides a path to the NBA. Some of them will still be “one and done” players. Whether they should have been “one and done” will be determined, much as it currently is, by their draft position and ability to make an impact on an NBA roster. Most likely, the super elite players will opt for making money for a year, then jumping in the next NBA draft. In a few years, the super elite players will be eligible for the draft right out of high school.

Pathways. Choices. Money.

People who choose the college pathway make that choice to gain more education that will hopefully allow them to find a job that provides them a better chance at higher paying employment. Yes, some have other reasons not financially motivated but making more for yourself is right there. Again, college basketball players are no different. If they think they are good enough to play professionally, then they will pick the best path for them to do so. Again, I agree with Bilas and the notion of incentivizing college. If a player chooses the college path then the academic part of that path should matter. In no way, shape, or form, does a “one and done” think about the academics.

I think these choices being provided are a good thing. Choices usually are. Sure, some kids will make bad decisions. For every LeBron James let me serve you up Sebastian Telfair, Jonathan Bender, Lenny Cooke, Leon Smith, and Korleone Young. Would those guys have benefitted from playing college basketball? Yes. No amount of incentives, however, would have made these guys interested in college. Again, that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. These guys also may have benefitted from the new G League developmental plan, and the first year cash payment would have helped, too.

The fact is underclassmen are declaring for the draft at an alarming rate. If they all think they are going to the NBA they either can’t count to 60– the number of draft picks in the NBA draft— or they are misguided. In reality, a lot of these guys are willing to go to the NBA minor leagues or overseas in order to get paid for their abilities. As I said, some aren’t interested in going to class anymore. So why the angst over a few elite players skipping college altogether?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way by stating that watching the best players play the game is clearly better than not watching the best players. Having a higher quality of play is better than having an average quality of play. Nevertheless, let’s pump the brakes on it being the demise of the sport.

Zion Williamson didn’t win a championship at Duke. He was great, he was an attraction, but he couldn’t get his team to the Final Four. Fortunate to make it to the regional finals, Duke lost to a junior and senior laden Michigan State team.

Kevin Durant put up even better numbers while at Texas. He was a phenom. He still only led Texas to a third place Big 12 finish. In the NCAA tournament they were blown out in the second round by USC, who were led by two juniors and a senior.

Speaking of USC, this past season they had their own freshman phenom in Onyeka Okongwu. He was an absolute stud who will most likely be taken in the top 5-7 picks in this year’s draft. The Trojans were a bubble team for much of the season.

My point is that these “one and done” players do not guarantee a Final Four run. John Calipari has made a living at Kentucky with “one and done” players. Otherwise, it is becoming more than a trend to say that teams with veteran players are having more success. Look no further than the growing success of mid major teams. Most mid majors have players that stay four years. A group of early twenty somethings have an advantage over eighteen year olds.

More to the point, fans enjoy watching players grow. Fans get to know the players much better over the course of their time at the university they cheer for. Check out the love for these players at each school’s senior night. Fans respect these players for getting a degree and for entertaining them for four years. Certainly most fans want to see their favorite team win. Getting better players helps that along. I’m most definitely not insinuating that fans don’t enjoy cheering for a “one and done” player. I’m also not insinuating these players aren’t positive members of the school and community while on campus.

What I am insinuating is fans are loving the current state of college basketball. Smart fans know the talent level is down, but the competitive balance is up. This past year was wild. Tight games galore, and tons of upsets scattered college basketball’s landscape. It’s kind of ironic that college basketball keeps trying to make their game more like the NBA, yet allowing its most NBA ready talents easier access to the league. Let them go. I hate watching NBA games. I love watching college basketball. I’m not alone.

I still value the STUDENT in student-athlete. “One and done” players just don’t epitomize that idea. I’d love to see college basketball adopt the college football three years removed from high school rule for entering the professional ranks. Obviously that is never going to happen. So in the meantime I’m going to continue to enjoy the parity, close games, and excitement.

Team success is what it is all about. Jalen Green would have made some team much better. He chose a different path. No problem. I’ll continue to enjoy the guys who stick around, improve, and provide exciting games, if not masterpieces.

College athletics has a lot to clean up. Valuing the student part of student-athlete is not one place the broom needs to sweep.

Two Cent Takes

College Football

~Seeing Ohio State on top of the 247Sports.com early 2021 recruiting rankings is no surprise. North Carolina at two is a bit shocking, but with Mack Brown in the saddle again everyone knew the Tarheels would get some players. No, the real shocker is the team currently ranked number eight. The Minnesota Golden Gophers, with two top 300 players already, are on the rise in recruiting. This is thrilling for Minnesota fans, and a sign that PJ Fleck will have the Gophers rowing a much shinier boat in years to come.

~Another sudden reversal of recruiting fortune is taking place out west. The USC Trojans are landing four star recruits left and right. Massive coaching changes, though not at the top, have paid immediate dividends. The new guys are tireless recruiters. In particular, Donte Williams who was poached from the Trojans main recruiting rival out west, Oregon, is a big favorite of the local kids. Here are his thoughts on his new coaching/recruiting home.

We shall see if the results on the field improve as well.

~Back to the Big Ten, they have eight teams in the top 15 of the recruiting rankings. Two of those teams are Maryland and Rutgers. Mike Locksley and Greg Schiano are fantastic recruiters, and if you want to turn moribund programs around, recruiting is step one. This is also good news for the conference in general. Every conference has bottom feeders, but you need them to at least be Division I level bottom feeders.

NFL

~The NFL Draft begins Thursday with the first round. Unless you’ve just been teleported back to Earth from another galaxy, you know that the draft will be conducted virtually. Here are ten things to expect(or not):

  • Virtual “bro hugs” from Roger Goodell. He won’t be able to help himself.
  • Virtual Jets fans screaming J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS, then booing their pick.
  • Tom Brady falling in Bucs picks. He is in charge after all.
  • GM’s getting FaceTime calls from a restricted #. Hang up, it’s just OBJ.
  • OBJ trade rumors > AB signing somewhere rumors.
  • Number of times we are told Cleveland has Super Bowl talent? 1. By a drunk Baker Mayfield.
  • Number of times we are told Mike Mayock is a draft genius? Too many.
  • Number of Jerry Jones fist pumps? Also, too many.
  • Number of times Mel Kiper says, “I don’t understand that pick”? How many picks do Detroit and Washington have?
  • Even in isolation, Kiper’s hair will be flawless.

~Mike Tomlin’s wife, Kiya, has been busy at her fashion design shop making hundreds of masks for use during the pandemic. This is a fantastic thing, and proof that none of the Tomlins live in their fears.

Quarantine Boredom Remedies

~Last week’s old school video game was one of my favorites to play back in the day, MegaMania. This week I’ll give you two. Take your best shot at guessing them.

 

~Ozark on Netflix. Watch it. You’re welcome. The last scene of season three was fantastic.

~Twitter is a great place for arguments, finger pointing, and generally feeling like society is doomed. It is also a great place to find some laughs. The Barstool guys put out some funny stuff including their latest with fictitious #CoachDuggs going to USC. Currently, two of my favorite follows are impersonator extraordinaire Frank Caliendo and former NBA hoopster Rex Chapman.

Frank has been putting out some hilarious clips of him as Pat Summerall and John Madden announcing every day events. Here is his most recent where he does Marv Albert, Charles Barkley, and Shaq announcing nuns playing basketball.

And here is one of Rex’s latest from his feed. He finds the best dog clips.

Keep smiling, keep laughing, and keep safe. Now, about that Steelers draft coming up this week…

A Penny For My Final Thought…

The NFL draft is Thursday, virtual as it may be. The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t pick until Friday.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is coming back to be, in his own words, “better than ever”.

Many Mocksters have the Steelers drafting Jalen Hurts or even Jacob Eason. To state the obvious, they are suggesting the Steelers still need a successor at quarterback. They would be correct, no offense to Mason Rudolph or Du…oh, honestly I’m not even typing his name.

Indicating the Steelers take a quarterback with the 49th selection in this year’s draft is misguided.

With the Steelers dynamic defense and the fact Roethlisberger is 38 going on 50, they need to be in win now mode. They absolutely need to plan for the future at quarterback, and fast. Roethlisberger’s durability is certainly in question, as is his ability to be productive at 38. Even before his arm injury he was showing signs of slowing down. Making it through the last two years of his contract is no sure fire bet.

Having said all of the above, I’m not interested in Hurts or Eason anymore than I was about the constant rumors of Jameis Winston or even Cam Newton. Hurts and Eason seem like projects. The Steelers already have a project in Rudolph. Finding the next great quarterback is never easy. The Steelers spent the better part of 25 seasons finding the next Terry Bradshaw.

Winning a Super Bowl isn’t easy either. They may have two years of Ben Roethlisberger, so let’s go for it right now and plan for the future later.

So who should the Steelers draft?

The defense could use depth, especially up the middle at safety, inside linebacker and interior defensive line. The offense could use offensive line depth and a tight end for the future, but the biggest need is another playmaker at running back and to a lesser extent wide receiver.

The Steelers typically take the best player available. If they keep that going this year there should be a plethora of skill players on the board. This year’s wide receiver class is beyond deep. Many quality runners may still be available at pick 49 as well.

Trying to do an entire seven round mock draft is fun, but pointless. So here is my hope for their first pick, which is in the second round and some general thoughts on their draft in general.

Pick 49:

  • Michael Pittman: This kid is shooting up draft boards and may not make to #49. Pittman is big, fast enough, and has tremendous hands. He is also a great kid. He is good in the classroom, a team player, good in the community, and good with kids. His dad played in the NFL, so he has a familiarity for the lifestyle. In today’s game you can never have enough wide receivers. Pittman is also a great special teams player, including the uncanny ability to block punts. Plus he would be gold in the red zone.
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: At only 5’7” CEH is not the biggest back in the draft, but is one of the most valuable. He is sure handed and a real threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield. This is a quality that Ben Roethlisberger really loves. He would immediately contribute. James Conner, when healthy, has shown he is capable and Benny Snell might be ready for more work. The tremendous inconsistency at the position needs fixed one way or the other, and CEH could help with that.
  • Jonathan Taylor: Can he stop fumbling? The Steelers had terrible issues with turnovers a season ago. The fumbles almost made me type Zach Moss, a tough inside runner with speed from Utah, or JK Dobbins, a runner with a lack of pass catching skills from Ohio State. However, Taylor’s elite speed and track record makes him very intriguing and possibly a guy that won’t be around at 49.
  • Chase Claypool: 6’4” 238 pounds and a 4.42 40 yard dash has me intrigued even though he played at Notre Dame. Big, fast, a really good route runner, and above average hands would be pretty nice to have. Another guy that would be a great red zone target and special teams player.

Trades, a guy slipping, a guy rising, makes the draft tough to predict. All four of these players could be gone, and all four of these players could be available. I just know I would like to see one of these guys(I listed them by my preference) in a Steelers’ uniform.

If there is a player available at a different position that the scouts like then I guess I could live with it. I do not think the Steelers future quarterback is available at 49. I’m not interested in Hurts or Eason. A team can only have so many questionable backup quarterbacks, and the Steelers already have plenty.

Playmakers make splash plays, so to speak.

The Steelers need more splash so they can get out of stadiums with victories.

Go get a playmaker that will meet the standard.

Just my two cents…