We have talked so many times about the one-and-done that it seems that it’s all we talk about. The other day we had Doug Gotlieb beclowning himself over early entry, we’ve had sports pundits crawling all over themselves to hate it, it never seems to end. No matter how many examples we bring, it seems to never occur to many people that the one-and-done or “succeed and proceed” as Coach Cal would have it, is anything other than an unalloyed evil.
Today, John Clay reminds us, using the unfortunately recent example of Julius Randle and his concomitant season-ending injury, that the one-and-done is much easier to defend than most of its detractors imagine:
Let’s switch gears, however, and consider a hypothetical. Suppose Randle had returned to Kentucky for his sophomore season. Suppose he decided he needed another campaign under John Calipari to polish his game, to chase after a title, to strengthen his draft stock. Suppose that on the first night of the regular season, in the waning moments of a game in Rupp Arena, Randle had fractured the tibia in his right leg.
Such a stroke of bad luck would open a Pandora’s box of uneasy questions. Can Randle recover? Will he return as the same player as he was before the injury? What sort of effect will the injury have on his developmental timetable? Was this a fluky misstep or the harbinger of the bad luck associated with an injury-prone player?
This it the big reason why players should take the big money when it becomes available, or justify the reason why not to Calipari. You see, Calipari has seen just this scenario before — his very first one-and-done, DeJuan Wagner. Wagner developed ulcerative colitis a few years after being drafted #6 overall. His NBA career, however short, set him up for life.
The one-and-done “debate” is mostly driven by people with very little investment in the process. Is it ideal that young men leave college early with no degree? No. Is the trade-off both justifiable and fair to all sides? Surely. The only people who lose in this arrangement, generally, are the fans. Despite their extremely useful passion, most fans (and members of the commentariat) have very little, if any, skin in the game, as the saying goes.
Perhaps coaches can be thrown into the “loser” category as well, as they have to find ways to navigate the uncertainty surrounding early entry. Sometimes, it’s in the form of trying to plug big holes in your squad left by early departures. Other times, like this year for Coach Cal, it’s trying to figure out how to manage an embarrassment of riches in a way that will do justice to his vision of “succeed and proceed.”
Maybe in a perfect world, all student-athletes would stay in school for four years and not play professional sports until after graduating with a degree, or giving that a legitimate try. Maybe.
There’s a perfect world and then there’s bottom-line reality, however. Circumstances change. Luck, good and bad, intervenes.
There’s a life lesson in all of this, and it is simple — don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Young men get to come to college for at least one year and provide entertainment for fans of the college game, get experience of a kind needed to be successful at the next level and get additional academic training in the bargain. Yes, they don’t get paid, and that is another debate, but they do get free instruction of all sorts, food, board, an opportunity to play in huge venues before thousands of people and exposure to a national audience, insurance against injury, and training on how to be successful in a man’s league like the NBA. Call it an apprenticeship, if you will. And the other side of that coin is allowing players to enter professional sport straight out of college, which professional leagues have decided, quite rightly, is not in their best interests.
Is it the mission of colleges to provide one, two, or three-year apprenticeships for talented athletes, effectively serving as a development league for professional athletics? No, not really. Is one-and-done the ideal solution for universities, players, coaches, or the professional leagues? Again, no. But it does provide a method for getting ready for the next level in professional sports that is, at least in my view, clearly superior to the alternative of trying to play overseas or sitting around for a year with zero exposure trying to hone your skills before the NBA draft.
Perfect? No way. Workable. Yes.