CJ Leslie

Some early entries didn’t make the NBA. So what?

So 47 college basketball players left school early, and “only” 27 of them made an NBA roster. This, according to the interwebs, is a grave issue that must be addressed.

The concern is that somehow they’ve gotten terrible advice and would have been much better off staying in college. And to me – at least in the vast majority of cases – this is complete crap.

First, it assumes that the player who left didn't make a reasoned decision and is just a puppet to nefarious handlers urging him into the NBA. Second, it assumes that a player who leaves college has somehow failed if he doesn’t crack an NBA roster a few months later. Third, it assumes the best path forward on their career is to continue playing for free in college games.

But thinking that every kid who leaves early assumes he’s going to the NBA is naïve. Of course, they WANT to be in the NBA.  But most who aren’t lottery picks assume that what they’re doing is taking a shot. It’s their time, and they think they can do it. And if not, the fallback is the D-League or – like most college kids who go pro – to some overseas league. So now they’re making really good money and they’re playing basketball. And their dreams of the NBA haven’t changed at all. Only now they have the opportunity to play the game full time rather than be unnecessarily hampered by NCAA practice limitations. So they will probably get better, faster. Or at the worst, it’s a wash.

What’s the alternative that’s so great that they should feel ashamed to have not made the NBA? Should they still be in college scrounging for change so that they can go to In-N-Out Burger? For some players, sure, that’s the right path. But for others, it’s not. They’d rather be making a steady paycheck so that they can pay off bills or help family. They’d rather be out in the real world, taking care of themselves.

If you want waive your arms around about how the “system” has failed these kids, then fine – and you’ll always have a few examples which make your case in some myopic vacuum. But for the majority of these guys? They’re just ready to get to work.

The players who we should be waiving our arms around about are much younger. They're the kids (literally, kids) who are dodging gangs on the walk home from the gym, or having supposedly supervisory adults using them for their own potential paycheck, or failing high school not knowing how many insanely talented players have dropped off the face of the planet because of decisions they began making when they were barely a teenager.

The system, like all billion dollar industries, is dirty and corrupt. But focus on the kids who are being swallowed by it before their voices have even changed, not the collegiate junior who's now making steady money playing overseas.

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