I am staggered by the news - even the suggestion of the news - that Skal Labissiere is considering going into the NBA draft this spring.
Believe me, I understand the arguments:
[a] If someone wants to pay him several million dollars, why shouldn't he go?
[b] If several million is on the table right now, who's to say it will still be there after his sophomore or junior seasons?
But if he goes, or if he's advised to go, it will point out everything that's wrong with the NBA drafting system that's in place today - apart from being probably an immensely self-destructive decision on his part.
I admit that, partly, I'm steeped in the memory of players being required to stay in school until their classes graduated. It's generational folks. Sorry!
But even in the glare of today's reality, there are some things that are more real than others.
I've been thinking a lot lately about Draymond Green. He came out of Saginaw, Mich., in 2008. I can't tell you much about his recruitment, except he was once committed to Kentucky. (He was a three/four-star prospect most of his recruitment, and it's not like UK and Tubby didn't have plenty of those guys who went on to be mere college role players.)
As a freshman, he was barely a blip on a Michigan State team that went all the way to the NCAA finals. Lost to North Carolina by 17. He got off the bench for 12 minutes in the final game. Took a couple of shots, grabbed a bunch of rebounds. Averaged 3.3 points a game for the season.
In other words, no Blake Griffin, the top pick in that year's draft out of Oklahoma. James Harden (Arizona State), Tyreke Evans (Memphis) and Stephen Curry (Davidson) were among the other lottery picks.
Draymond Green stayed at MSU and improved steadily over the next four seasons. By his junior year, he was averaging double figures. He averaged 16 points and over 10 rebounds a game as a senior. His body filled out and he benefited, I'm sure, from four years in the company of Tom Izzo. As a player. And as a young man.
Still, all that earned him was a second-round draft pick by the Warriors. Minimal signing money, I'm guessing. Today, he's an NBA All-Star on a historic Golden State team, earning $14 million a year, part of a five-year $82 million package.
While we're not comparing Skal's situation to that of Green, it is worth pointing out the path of guys like Green show that guys like Skal can stay in college for 3-4 years and still go on to reach their potential in the NBA.
So Skal, would you like your future to look something like that? Or do you want to get lottery pick money, fail miserably in training camp, spend your nights on buses between Canton, Ohio, and Erie, Pa., maybe end up in Spain or Turkey for a decade?
Yes, the money will be good. But is that your dream? Do you aspire to be another one of those NBA draft pick jokes, 30-plus years later? "Do you know who was picked ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft? Seriously!"
(By the way, Sam Bowie had a very respectable 11-year pro career. That places him well above the average draftee.)
Here's the math of the one-and-done. There are 30 NBA teams employing a total of 360 roster individuals. Every year, many collegians come onto the market. Some are legitimate contenders. Most are marginal - underdeveloped frames, underdeveloped games. Or maybe bad habits. Bad work ethics. Bad attitudes.
Thirty of them will be first-round picks. Fourteen will be lottery picks.
Very cool on draft night, the New York crowd chanting your name, a nifty new team cap placed on your head, flashbulbs exploding in your face, your highlight film on the big screen, an ESPN interview, Jay Bilas telling a national TV audience you could be the goods.
But then you'll have to be better than those 360 employed athletes currently in place. And that arithmetic keeps multiplying, year after year after year. Expansion notwithstanding, there will still be only 360 spots on the NBA benches. Next year. And the next year. And the next.
You may come in this year as someone's hot new thing. But next year, you're depreciated goods and another hot new thing is going to come along seeking your spot on the roster. Most teams will have a hard time justifying paying both of you.
In the meantime, you're playing a few hundred minutes, your progress disintegrating there on the bench. Randy Wittman, George Karl, Alvin Gentry, they don't have time to develop your game. They're trying to save their jobs.
So, much better to come in as Anthony Davis or John Wall, ready to play the NBA game, than to come in as Marquis Teague or James Young, cash a nice first check and then confront the reality of your situation.
Which are you, Skal? If anyone tells you that right now you're the next Anthony Davis, put on your coat and leave the room.
Or do you want to be the next Draymond Green? Then for all that's holy, stay in school.
And no, that's not a message from an Afterschool Special.