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A More Educated League

January 10, 2002 Columns No Comments

A More Educated League

by Jason Drucker

One of the most constant debates throughout all of basketball has been whether or not the players serve as role models. Charles Barkley doesn’t seem to think so, but many college programs disagree. With the face of professional basketball appearing much younger nowadays, it’s the college programs that are going to have to adjust.

Mike Krzyzewski never had to face the problem of underclassmen leaving for the NBA, possibly because the Blue Devils wanted to educate themselves more in the classroom, or perhaps more on the court, before graduating to a higher level of play. After Duke finished second to the Connecticut Huskies in the 1999 NCAA Championship, three underclassmen decided to test their talents on the open market. Sophomores Elton Brand and William Avery, and freshman Corey Maggette all declared eligibility for the NBA Draft weeks after that loss. Everyone knew Brand was ready, especially Chicago when they selected him with the number one pick in the draft. However, neither Avery nor Maggette seemed ready for the NBA, but that doesn’t change the fact that both are currently playing in the most elite basketball league in the world.

Duke is now trying to revolutionize college basketball, and adapt to its changing environment. Jason Williams expects to graduate and enter next season’s NBA Draft, despite the fact that he has only been at Duke for three years. Arguably the nation’s best player, Williams has focused on his academics as much as his athletics. He has made the most of his summers, studying at Duke rather than solely playing in basketball leagues, something many college athletes spend their summers doing. Duke requires each student to have 34 credits upon graduation, designating 1 credit for each class. With the common 4-course semester, athletes at Duke can attend the university for 3 years, providing a total of 24 credits. The remaining credits can be earned through summer schooling, giving athletes a realistic opportunity to graduate before becoming pros.

Let’s face it, the average age in the NBA is dropping, and people are finally starting to notice that the level of play is dropping as well. Teams know what they are getting when they draft teenagers: a future superstar (or at least a candidate for the all-star team) who they will try to mold into a genuine article. However, those players who stay in college have not only learned how to play a team game, but have also received a full education. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant are certainly exceptions, as they have taken the league by storm since foregoing college, but numerous other players would certainly have benefited from a more patient learning environment. Al Harrington, for example, is a good player. He’s been in the league a few years, but his first two were spent learning. Wouldn’t he have been better off playing for a top school while learning?

We all know that stardom and/or financial woes are what really drives these youngsters to enter the NBA, so I have a solution. College players should be paid for their efforts. This suggestion sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. Athletes should receive ample pay for staying in college, maybe something like $10,000 a year. Sounds silly? Considering the money schools make off these athletes, I really think this suggestion is a plausible one. Since I’m on the outside looking in, I don’t know about the booster money that some athletes receive. Maybe I’m just being skeptical, but I’m sure that some players receive more than $10,000 a year in gifts from alumni. The fact remains that higher learning is not promoted nearly enough during a time when a college education is a prerequisite for many jobs.

NBA stars like Vince Carter and Shaquille O’Neal receive great publicity for graduating while involved with professional basketball. That determination sends a positive message to future athletes, as well as those who do not intend to become athletes. Off the court, many players have set up charities, or become involved with programs intended to help those less fortunate. Though Jason Williams probably isn’t thinking about the kind of message he will be sending to teenagers, his situation will help revolutionize the sport.


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