College Basketball: Stay in school or declare?

Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Contrary to popular opinion, the word “meme” does not inherently refer only to Internet trends like “forever alone,” “doge,” and “overly attached girlfriend.”  A meme is simply “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” “Meme” is short for mimeme, an ancient Greek infinitive meaning “to mime” or “to imitate.” Like most things, there are clear pros and cons regarding memes. On the plus side, it is fundamentally important that accurate information is able to rapidly spread throughout the populace en masse. Unfortunately, memes are highly-problematic when such disseminated information is obfuscated, misguided, or just plain wrong.

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  • One such untrue meme that has plagued the National Basketball Association for at least the last decade is the notion that college basketball players should declare for the NBA draft as soon as possible. This excitement and emphasis on the importance of the NBA Draft has went as far as spawning draft analysis cottage industries like Draft Express and NBADraft Dot Net; high school recruit scouting services like Rivals and Scout; and even its own clever catch phrase—”one and done.”

    The logic of  spurning a college education and NCAA basketball career in favor of the NBA is threefold: (1) the older you are when you are drafted, theoretically the less opportunity you have to develop as a professional; (2) the players characterized as “best” allegedly leave college sooner rather than later; and (3) the younger you reach the NBA, the greater number of NBA contracts you can sign prior to retirement. Whenever I hear draft and scouting talking heads bemoaning the players choosing to stay in college, I immediately ask myself if these previously cited reasons to turn pro are even true?

    If you stay in college for several years, are you really at a lesser position to develop as a basketball player than a guy who signed an NBA contract at age 18? What about a player like Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who played at UCLA from 2004-2007 and subsequently has had an NBA career where his scoring average has increased in every season as a professional? Is Afflalo just a developmental outlier? Would he be even better today if he left the Bruins in the summer of 2005?

    Feb 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Western Conference guard Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs onto Eastern Conference forward LeBron James (6) of the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter of the 2013 NBA all star game at the Toyota Center. West won 143-138. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
    Feb 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Western Conference guard Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs onto Eastern Conference forward LeBron James (6) of the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter of the 2013 NBA all star game at the Toyota Center. West won 143-138. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

    Are the best players really the ones who left college very early or avoided the NCAA entirely? We like to cite players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett as skipping college success stories, but in the same breath we ignore legends like Michael Jordan (UNC, 1981-1984), Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, 1993-1997), and Larry Bird (Indiana State, 1976-1979).

    Finally, is it really the financially sound decision to try to maximize the number of potential NBA contracts received by joining the Association early, or is this somewhat of a defeatist mentality valuing quantity of contracts over quality [and dollar value size] of the contracts themselves?

    I have my suspicions, but I don’t know the answers to these aforementioned questions with certainty. I do know, however, that a lot of good, successful basketball players stayed in school as opposed to declaring for the NBA Draft as soon as possible. Consider the 2013-2014 Miami Heat roster that made the NBA Finals:

    • Reserve shooting guard and future Hall of Famer Ray Allen attended UConn from 1993-1996,
    • Reserve small forward and two-time NBA Champion Shane Battier attended Duke from 1997-2001,
    • Starting point guard and current hotly-desired free agent target Mario Chalmers attended Kansas from 2005-2008,
    • Reserve guard, energy guy, and current key trade chip Norris Cole attended Cleveland State from 2007-2011,
    • Reserve combo guard Toney Douglas attended Auburn from 2004 to 2005 and Florida State from 2006-2009,
    • Reserve power forward and three-time NBA Champion Udonis Haslem attended Florida from 1998-2002,
    • Reserve three point specialist James Jones attended Miami from 1999-2003, &
    • Starting shooting guard and fourth best SG of all time Dwyane Wade attended Marquette from 2000-2003.

    Perhaps the best thing about Internet memes is that when one is “played out” or proven to be dumb or incorrect, powerful communities such as Reddit and 4chan /b/ self-regulate and seemingly force-retire said memes through such things as public shaming and inverse trend setting. Unlike their digital cousins, memes in real life have a tendency to never retire.

    A lot of people still curiously believe that the Earth is flat and that dinosaurs and evolution are liberal fictions. Many still erroneously think that Jaleel White aka Steve Urkel from Family Matters died in the mid aughts. And some even are convinced that Neil Armstrong did not walk on the moon, and that al-Qaeda were not truly responsible for 9/11. These are all just bad memes that won’t go away.

    Similarly, the concept that a college basketball player must declare and go pro as soon as possible in order to succeed is another one of these difficult to comprehend memes that probably has no place in the current basketball ethos.

    The next time a college basketball player who is seemingly ready for the pros decides to return to school, let’s not immediately question and attack his decision making. Instead, let us remember that 8 members of the 2-time defending NBA Champion 2013 Miami Heat spent significant time playing college basketball.