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Published: Monday, 4/9/2001

NBA wannabes would gain from staying in school

In the days leading up to and following the Final Four, a dozen or so college underclassmen and high school seniors declared their financial dependence by making a declaration of independence. They're entering this year's NBA Draft.

More will follow.

Of the hundreds of eligible basketball players, 58 will be drafted on June 27.

Most of those eligible players will be jobless following the draft. Worse, many of them will not have their college degrees.

For those who are drafted, there are no guarantees of success. Only a few will become rich and famous.

By leaving college early, or not going to college at all, just for the opportunity to enter what amounts to a high-stakes poker game, they risk not earning a college degree and ending up poor and ignored.

Some of them are poor already -- that's why they're gambling in the first place. As the saying goes, you can't miss what you never had.

You'd like to shake some sense into them, warn them about dreams deferred and never realized. Tell them about former star athletes, like themselves, who never graduated from college, who wrecked a knee or couldn't dribble with their left hand, and ended up working the graveyard shift at a fast-food restaurant.

A college coach recently related a sad story about one of his players. Sad, but so typical of today's college athlete.

The player wasn't good enough to start and didn't average double figures as a senior. Instead of concentrating on obtaining his degree and preparing for life after basketball, the player asked the coach to use his contacts to assist him in obtaining a job with a professional team.

“Did you laugh in his face?” I asked.

“He doesn't have a clue,” replied the coach.

I call this the Lost Generation. These kids are totally in the dark. They can't see the light for the dollar signs.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, college basketball players at least considered the possibility of staying in school all four years. That increased their chances of graduating from college, even if they didn't graduate to the NBA. If everything else failed, they still had their education.

Now, college seniors are viewed by pro scouts as damaged goods. Remember, teenagers are being drafted out of high school. If those college seniors were any good, they'd already be playing pro ball, the logic goes.

I'd prefer drafting a player with extensive college experience, who already has a college degree, who has a mature game but still hasn't reached his ceiling for improvement.

He's going to be a better player sooner than the kid right out of high school or the one who played one or two years in college.

And what's to say that high school kid will ever be as good as Shane Battier of Duke is right now?

Even if he never plays in the NBA, Battier should be considered a role model for players who follow.

He shouldn't be penalized because he played all four years in college. The NBA is making a big mistake if it drafts high school players ahead of Battier, who will graduate with honors and capped his basketball career by winning a national championship.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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