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College Basketball: The Death of "Testing the Waters"

The death of "Testing the Waters" in the NBA does not hurt or help Coach Cal, but there is no way he is in favor of it.
The death of "Testing the Waters" in the NBA does not hurt or help Coach Cal, but there is no way he is in favor of it.

It used to be that college basketball players could test their marketability with the NBA prior to declaring themselves available for the NBA draft. Many players used to work out for NBA teams or contact them about where team decision-makers might consider them for the upcoming NBA draft. This year, the waters are no longer warm, but cold, forbidding, and toxic.

The NCAA, primarily under pressure from college basketball coaches, changed the rule last year, taking almost a month off the time that an NBA player could "Test the Waters" and determine his marketability in the NBA. The players who are interested in declaring for the NBA draft still have until April 29th, the NBA's rule, to do that and can withdraw before June 18th. The problem is, if a player today declares and has not withdrawn before April 10th, he no longer has the option to come back to college.

Gone are the days when college players would work out for NBA teams and still have the option to withdraw and return. Gone are the days of "combines" like John Calipari put on last year to allow NBA executives and talent scouts to evaluate players. "Testing the Waters" is no longer practically possible, and the NBA has given up any pretense of trying to set up player evaluations in such a short, 1-week window.

Obviously, this is bad for players wondering if they could be drafted, but good for coaches. Players can still wait until April 29th, but after tomorrow, that decision becomes an irrevocable commitment to become a professional and enter the draft. That means players are the ones left out in the cold, which is by design.

Despite their posturing, the NCAA is not whatsoever interested in making it easy for a player to come to this decision, and is perfectly comfortable with not providing help for the NBA to pull players away from its ranks. It makes sense, if you think about it, for the NCAA. With less information and less certainty, many players are likely to opt to return rather than risk going undrafted. That's the idea.

It's easy to blame the NCAA, but let's be honest -- the NCAA was helping the NBA take their guys, and doing it for free for no benefit to them. As a business decision, it makes sense -- the NBA is unquestionably a competitor for the services of these young players, and the NCAA has absolutely zero interest, from a business standpoint, in helping them leave for the NBA.

Of course, this is nothing but three kinds of bad for the players involved, and we may well see a number of kids make a bad call and jump, only to be left at the altar with nothing but the preacher and no bride, forced to go hat in hand to NBA team tryouts and earn a spot on a roster the hard way. After that, it's the $12-25K/year NBADL, or possibly someplace more lucrative in Europe if they are good enough and don't mind leaving their families behind.

But that's life in the new world of coaching certainty. I'm positive Calipari wasn't for the new rule, even though it conceivably benefits him. But Coach Cal does not want, or need, the kind of benefit that puts his players at risk to make the wrong decision. That's other coaches sweating their job -- not him.

This is another reason, in the end, why players trust Calipari. They know where he stands on this, they know he'll tell them the truth and not try to keep a guy around so he can avoid having to completely rebuild the next season. They know that they are going to get a ton of exposure and if they are ready, they'll get the advice they need. Calipari is the one coach in college basketball who the new rule is absolutely neutral to -- it doesn't help or hurt him in the least. It is a nullity, and he has already advised his players to simply ignore it and focus on a decision by April 29th.

But there is no way he is fine with it -- uh, uh. He'd rather have the old rule, and give his kids a chance to make the very best decision possible. He knows their future is on the line, and so do the other coaches. The others just happen to care more about #1, and want to feel sanguine about their job first and foremost. If that means a player makes a bad decision that hurts his life, well, that's on him.

Is it any wonder Kentucky gets the best of the best? No, it's not -- it's by design, and its what happens when you place the welfare of others ahead of your own. Calipari gets it, and everyone knows that this year's championship will make him the most feared recruiter in modern college basketball history.