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Vaught’s note: Steve Vance is a long time UK basketball fan who occasionally provides commentary on UK basketball. Today he shares his thoughts on the one-and-done — and assumes that Julius Randle will declare for the NBA in a few hours at his press conference — and even has a humorous reference to Hayden “Sidd” Finch. Enjoy.
By STEVE VANCE
Coach John Calipari has said it numerous times since becoming head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, “It’s not my rule. It’s the NBA’s rule. If it was up to me, I’d have a player stay two years.” Of course, Coach Cal is talking about the National Basketball Association’s initial player eligibility rule, more commonly known to NCAA college basketball fans and sports reporters alike as the “one and done” rule. That being said, no college basketball coach has more successfully utilized the NBA’s eligibility rule to recruit and develop a top performing college basketball team than John Calipari himself has done at the University of Kentucky. Three Final Fours, a National Title, and a runner-up during his brief five year leadership of the Wildcats, all speak to the talent level Calipari has been able to bring to Lexington by embracing the minimum of one year of college eligibility required by the NBA.
In his tenure at UK, a total of 12 John Calipari recruited athletes have shined as UK freshmen and, by virtue of the one year eligibility rule, then taken their tremendous basketball talents directly to the NBA the following year. DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Marcus Teague, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, and most recently, James Young and Julius Randle have all succeeded at UK then proceeded to the professional ranks after one season at the University of Kentucky. Imagining an NBA rule change that would require a player of comparable talents to remain at UK for a second year of play makes the Big Blue Nation almost giddy with excitement and inspires dreams of NCAA Championships to come.
And yet, for all the talk about the NBA taking action to change its player eligibility ruling to either require two years of college or be at least 21 years of age (effectively eliminating the so called “one and done” rule), The reality is that the NCAA has always had the power to negate the NBA eligibility ruling, revolutionize college basketball, and bring more parity to the college landscape as a whole; they’ve just been too contrary to do it.
It all has to do with how the NCAA defines eligibility as it relates to the NBA draft.
The NCAA Division 1 Manual, the guide for intercollegiate athletics states in Section 12.1.12 “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual: (f ) After initial full-time collegiate enrollment, enters into a professional draft .” Very simply put, if a player declares for the NBA draft – they’re done – kaput – finished – no more college eligibility. Their college playing days are over – regardless of the drafts outcome, regardless if it proved a wise decision or not. In the NCAA’s mind, this restrictive rule serves to create a climate of fear that somehow will compel a college athlete to remain in school for a longer period of time, rather than risk a premature jump to the NBA.
The question is “why”?
Why is it necessary for a player to lose his remaining college eligibility to play additional years simply by allowing his name to be placed into the NBA draft? Why not allow every college player to place his name into the NBA draft as often as he wants to, and then simply decide after the draft whether he wants to remain in college or take the money and jump to the professional ranks? If the NBA draft is simply viewed as a potential job offer, why not allow a college player to participate in the draft, determine the quality of the job offer, and then either accept it or reject it and then return to college?
The reason “why not” has a lot to do with the control of power and wealth. The NCAA leadership views itself as the righteous defender of amateur athleticism while wielding an iron-fisted monopoly of self-serving rules that would make any tyrant proud. If Coach Cal advocates a “players first” approach, the NCAA advocates a “players last” approach in its rule making. Yet, a simple change to eligibility as it relates to the draft could change it all – for the better of the players, the Universities, the fans, and the NCAA.
Think about the case of fictional NCAA player Hayden Finch. The lanky 7’2” center, starts for the Northwest Southeastern State University Tadpoles and has set a new NCAA Division 1 shot blocking record. However, he struggles offensively, and weighs only 175 pounds. Under the proposed NCAA rule change, Finch could place his name into the NBA draft and wait and see the draft results before deciding to forego his college eligibility and become a professional. On draft night, Finch might go as a lottery pick, for which he thanks his missionary parents, a Tibetan monk, and his college coach, while becoming a guaranteed contract multi-millionaire. On the other hand, Finch is picked late in the second round by the Sioux City Scooters, who follow-up with a non-guaranteed contract of $120,000, and a big qualifier of “IF Finch makes the team”. In this latter scenario, Hayden could simply say “no thanks” to the NBA offer and return to school to work on his game and help the Tadpoles continue their journey towards an NCAA title run. Finch is happy, the University is happy, the fans are happy, and even the NCAA might crack a smile with the prospect of a talented player returning to college without their threat of lost eligibility as coercion.
To be certain, there would need to be a few companion NCAA rule changes to make the new draft eligibility rule work effectively. First, following the draft, a player would need to make his intentions known to return for additional college eligibility within a 30 day or so period of the draft’s conclusion – roughly by August 1st of each year. Second, NCAA National Letters of Intent would have a non-binding status until that same exact post draft decision date; giving recruited players the option to look at other schools should they suddenly find their position crowded by a returning draftee. Incidentally, it’s this second point that would create more parity in the college game. Let’s revisit our fictional player to see how.
With Hayden Finch returning for another year of college play, the NWSE State Tadpoles suddenly find that they have one too few scholarships. Their planned replacement recruit for Sid, foreign youth athletic club player, Tahl Projecht, cannot sign a binding intent letter with NWSE State because the school does not have an available scholarship due to Finch’s decision to return to school based on his low draft position and poor man’s employment offer. As a result, Tahl Projecht signs with another NCAA school, in effect spreading the incoming talent wealth around the college game and creating more parity as more kids sticking around at a top school, means more available players for other schools. It slows the play and leave process down, resulting in more talented players remaining in college over all.
For top high school players, having to wait to finalize a commitment to a school until after the NBA draft would create some tension but probably no more so than when a current player who is expected to go to the draft now, such as Willie Cauley-Stein, elects to stay in school. Thus, top High School prospects might choose to simply make verbal commitments pending the draft results and which college players are choosing to return to school. While it could result in a few last minute scrambles, all of the top players have been recruited by multiple schools and know their options well. It really shouldn’t be an issue, and the option of being able to explore the draft at any time is a great benefit to an incoming player. Plus, it would spread the wealth of talent over more college programs, rather than the handful of elites, something all the NCAA member schools would like to see happen.
The NBA would also likely respond to this action by the NCAA. While the top college talents, regardless of class, would expect to retain a high first round draft position, an NBA team would not want to risk a low first round draft pick on a player who might opt to return to college. They would likely pass over the marginal prospect or not yet fully NBA ready talent for the more certain signing of a proven upperclassman. This also lowers the financial risk of the NBA teams, reducing their investment in marginal players who never develop NBA skills. It would also likely improve the quality of the NBA game as more immediately ready skilled players join the league.
Even if the NBA does revise their eligibility rules to require two years of college eligibility, the NCAA would still benefit by eliminating the “draft ineligibility rule” and giving the players the freedom to return to school after the draft. Quite frankly, with all the negative publicity the NCAA has received over the perceived financial inequities between the players and the institution, a player-first initiative like this proposed rule change would go a long way in helping their case in the court of public opinion.
For the University of Kentucky, this proposed rule change would likely slow down the progression of new players coming in, as more current players return for another year of improvement in the hope of improving their NBA stock, however, this would allow the current Wildcat team to develop more effectively with some talented upper classmen to support the uber-talented freshmen – much like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb did with the 2012 Championship team. That’s a thought every UK fan salivates about, even while they agonize over the thought that Coach Cal might not have enough scholarships to sign every top high school recruit should this proposed change be adopted by the NCAA.
If the NCAA would eliminate the archaic penalty of ineligibility as a result of entering the draft, far more good college players, but not yet NBA ready players, would remain in college to hone their skills, get their degree, and to the NCAA’s benefit – raise the overall quality of college play as less underclassmen would be likely to feel pressured by an “all or nothing” NBA draft decision as they currently face. In all, it’s time for the NCAA to stop treating players with fear and intimidation and partner with these young athletes to help them succeed and then proceed with a career well suited to their skills; treating them with the equality that every other scholarship student is treated.
By CODY PORTER, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the first of December and the name Dominique Hawkins had yet to be funneled into the houses of the state’s Big Blue faithful. Even the day after, it wasn’t exactly a name on the radar of University of Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari.
But what happened on that chilly Saturday at the Marshall County Hoop Fest was the first of many meetings between Hawkins and five-star talents Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
The Twins, as they have become labeled so often, of course, helped lead Travis High School to the win. However, it was the performance of the 6-1 Hawkins against the towering duo of guards that stand an already NBA-ready 6-6 that staggered those in attendance.
“All four years that I had him, he really stepped up against the better players,” Madison Central head coach Allen Feldhaus said.
As characteristically humble as he has became known around the UK offices, Hawkins plays down the game in which he slashed his way to 29 points. But he won’t deny the impact it had in raising his confidence as he led Madison Central to a state championship last season.
What may be even more remarkable for the unsung freshman is the effort he has put into becoming the player Calipari became enamored with during last year’s state tournament.
Feldhaus said just a little over a week prior to the weekend in Marshall County, Dominique was still on the football field. Feldhaus said having the chance to constantly focus on his basketball skills will make Hawkins better than he can even imagine while playing in a UK uniform.
“I think the biggest thing is him getting to play basketball 12 months out of the year,” Feldhaus said. “In high school he played football, too, so he didn’t get all of that individual instruction.”
In the considerably short amount of time he’s been on campus, Hawkins said going against the likes of the Harrisons and senior Jarrod Polson has forced him to improve his skill set.
“They steal the ball,” he said with a laugh. “Like in high school, I could just throw a pass and my teammates would get it. I just can’t throw a pass now because it would be stolen and dunked on the other side.”
And in the words of Feldhaus, “He’s not going to back down from anybody,” which makes him the ideal model of not only a teammate, but the next player to line himself in the legacy of Kentucky players who have stayed close to home to don a UK jersey.
“He’s going to do exactly what they want him to do; he’s going to not complain about it. He’s just a hard worker,” Feldhaus said. “If there was ever a poster child for what a high school basketball player should be like, he would be the one.”
When Eric Bledsoe committed to the Cats not so long ago, he too was a wild card with a looming shadow that had the name John Wall. Bledsoe did soar up the recruiting boards late, unlike Hawkins, but the two came to Lexington looking to prove themselves with similar work ethics, playing style and roster challenges that now has the former UK star preparing to start for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
“He’s 6-1. I think they compare him to Bledsoe a little bit as far as his size and strength — he’s a very strong, rugged player,” Feldhaus said. “Nothing would surprise me with what Dominique does because I know what type of kid he is. Strength-wise, he’s got a college body already. He’s strong as an ox.”
Hawkins said it may very well take some time before he can step on the court in a game scenario but he sees “his impact” coming.
“I’m just going to be a leader even if I’m on the bench or if I’m on the court,” Hawkins said. “I like being a leader because I can make my guys on my team do better because I want to win. Nobody wants to lose obviously, but winning makes a day much better.”
Feldhaus went as far to say that Hawkins is the “ultimate teammate,” a compliment noteworthy considering he was the team’s leading scorer in only 15 games through the Indians’ 11th Region championship victory over Lexington Catholic.
“He thinks team first,” Feldhaus said. “I don’t know how many games we played against teams of lesser talent than us … and he would defer to his teammates and let them shine.”
However, when he was called upon, Hawkins graciously made his presence felt, which is what Calipari and the rest of the state learned in March when Madison Central emerged the state champion in a thriller over Ballard.
As the Indians progressed deeper into the state tournament, the recognition grew stronger for Hawkins.
The interest started lower on the D-1 scale with the likes of Western Kentucky and Morehead State calling for him to attend their schools. Point by point and win by win, though, the interest from teams such as Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Butler escalated.
But in the end, nearly all Kentucky boys only have one wish.
“With Dominique, he was a Kentucky fan,” Feldhaus said. “It’s your dream school. We knew right after the state tournament that was where he was going to go.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t a last ditch effort by current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, then Butler’s head coach who called in an attempt to lure Hawkins to Indianapolis as Madison Central officials were making arrangements for his news conference the morning of April 10.
“Once coach Cal said we want you to go with us, that was all she wrote,” Feldhaus said.
Hawkins said representing the state he’s from adds a new dynamic to playing the game.
“It’s more special I think, because growing up as a kid you watched Kentucky basketball and you’re hoping you can be on the team someday,” Dominique said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans should like what former Wildcat Archie Goodwin had to say about freshman Julius Randle, the nation’s top-rated power forward recruit, Monday
“He’s a competitive guy just like I was. In the gym every night just like I was,” Goodwin said.
And what about the overall team John Calipari will have this year?
“I feel like with the team that they have this year, just the talent alone is going to win a championship. It’s just a matter of them meshing together. Their competitive spirit is going to be there because it’s just too many guys on this team that hate to lose. I feel like they’re going to do some special things,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin’s former UK teammate, Nerlens Noel, had some advice for UK’s talented team.
“Establish team chemistry early on in the year and make sure a leader steps up because a young team like that, they’re especially going to need a leader that’s always going to keep them like a rock-solid team and always keep those guys composed,” Noel said. “At times, you’re under a lot of pressure, but I have to say they’re in a good position right now.”
By GARY GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON — Archie Goodwin is looking to build off a surprising effort in the summer league in which he played like somebody with something to prove.
There were doubts about Goodwin after he joined Kentucky teammate Nerlens Noel in the draft pool following an inconsistent freshman season with the Wildcats. The Oklahoma City Thunder nonetheless took him late in the first round before trading him to the Golden State Warriors, who then shipped him to the Phoenix Suns that night.
Goodwin went on to lead the Suns to the NBA summer league title in competition against fellow rookies and second-year players. In seven games he averaged 13.1 points and shot 50 percent from the field but impressed many with his explosiveness and willingness to draw contact.
Noel, Goodwin and fellow former Wildcats Julius Mays and Twany Beckham were back on campus Monday assisting Kentucky coach John Calipari’s pro camp for youth players.
Other parts of his game remain a work in progress for Goodwin, but the 6-foot-5, Little Rock, Ark., native believes his performance suggests what he’s capable of providing for the rebuilding Suns.
“I knew that people would have negative things to say just because of the way our season went,” said Goodwin, Kentucky’s leading scorer last season at 14.1 points per game. “But at the end of the day I knew what I was capable of, I knew what I was going to do. I control my own fate and just continue to work hard and block out what people are saying.”
Goodwin added that Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has indicated that he will be part of Phoenix’s offense.
“He’s telling me that I’m going to play right away. He wanted to make that clear,” he said. “They were excited to get me as I was excited to be there. They said from the get-go that I was going to be a special player and be one of the better players out of this draft. I felt the same, and with my work ethic and the way I compete, I’m going to make that happen.”
Mays went undrafted after transferring to Kentucky and playing last season as a fifth-year senior. But he has worked out for several NBA teams and is exploring possibilities overseas.
He said he’s “got a lot of great opportunities to choose from.”
By GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel’s injured knee is progressing well and he expects to make his NBA debut in December.
The 6-foot-10 Noel is recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, though that didn’t prevent the Philadelphia 76ers from acquiring the sixth overall pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in last month’s NBA draft.
“The knee feels great,” Noel said. “I’m just definitely staying after it, working hard, staying focused. As opposed to a timetable, I’m just (focused) on being careful, staying patient. I definitely want to come back a lot stronger than I was before.”
Another former Wildcat, Archie Goodwin, is looking to make a more immediate impact in the NBA. He had an impressive performance in his first action, helping the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Summer League title after the 29th overall selection’s pro potential was questioned before the draft.
Noel, Goodwin and fellow former Wildcats Julius Mays and Twany Beckham were back on campus Monday assisting Kentucky coach John Calipari’s pro camp for youth players.
Noel doesn’t figure to be an active participant in Calipari’s weeklong camp. But judging from his slow but smooth walk around Memorial Coliseum with his left leg wrapped, his recovery appears to be on track.
He doesn’t feel rushed to return and prove he should have been drafted higher. Noel said he has been working out six hours daily and is prepared to follow doctors’ orders about his recovery and return, whenever that is.
Projected as a lottery pick before he arrived on Kentucky’s campus last year as the nation’s top high school recruit, the Everett, Mass., native, remained high on many draft boards despite the February knee injury and long recovery. He was considered a possible No. 1 pick, so it was somewhat surprising when he fell several spots on draft night before the Pelicans chose him and eventually traded him to Philadelphia along with a 2014 first round pick.
Already motivated to come back from the injury, Noel said his slide down the draft order has merely provided more incentive to return.
“It’s something to wake up (to) in the morning and just keep me going,” said Noel, who led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and averaged 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. “It definitely will put fluid to my fire and wanting to get back and show teams what I’m capable of when I get back.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Craig Grialou of ArizonaSports.com had an interesting article explaining how pleased the Phoenix Suns are with the early play of Archie Goodwin.
“He’s got that ability to get to the basket,” head coach Jeff Hornacek told Giralou about Goodwin, who will turn 19 on August 17.
Goodwin went hrough a three-day minicamp this week to prepare NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
“(His age) was one of the things that maybe was a concern when he came in,” Hornacek told Giralou. “How much of the game does he know? How fast will he pick stuff up? He’s picking stuff up better than we expected. We’re throwing a lot of stuff at these guys. He knows it all.
“When he attacks the basket (he can’t) just think shot. He’s got to think, ‘Is it open for the shot?’ If it’s not, then make that extra pass. Those are things that — it’s a little different in the NBA when things collapse a little bit quicker than in college.”
Hornacek likes what Goodwin has shown he can do.
“I think the first practice was maybe a little, the physical play maybe his eyes were opened a little bit,” Hornacek said. “But he’s battled these last two and now he doesn’t even look like he’s an 18-year-old out there.”
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns, coming off the second-worst season in franchise history, went even younger with their second pick in Thursday’s first round, tabbing the young Archie Goodwin after he played one season with Kentucky. Phoenix traded up a notch from No. 30 to 29, with Golden State exchanging the picks and in a salary dump included guard Malcolm Lee as part of the deal.
Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough said the Suns badly wanted Goodwin and weren’t sure he would be available if the trade wasn’t made. Goodwin worked out twice in Phoenix.
Goodwin, envisioned as a point guard by the Suns, was accompanied by his mother, stepfather, aunt and uncle at Friday’s news conference. A touted high school player out of suburban Little Rock, Ark., he struggled with his shooting at Kentucky.
“I will say right now my strength will be really attacking the rim, making plays for myself and others, being aggressive and confident, and my competitive edge really sets me apart,” Goodwin said. “But I have a lot of room to grow. I’m only 18. I can get a lot stronger, I can get a lot more consistent in shooting, get my dribbling better and getting a high IQ for the game.”
Goodwin’s new coach, Jeff Hornacek, is confident Goodwin will do all he can to make the most of his ability, saying the player has shown he’ll be willing to work hard in order to improve.
“He’s got a bright future and he can do a lot of things for us,” the coach said. “Especially in the open game that we want to run.”
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns chose Ukrainian center Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, passing on Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.
The 7-foot-1 Len, who just turned 20, played two seasons at Maryland. Last year he averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Len came to Phoenix but did not work out because he is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
Because of a couple of surprise picks ahead of them, the Suns found that Noel, the big center from Kentucky, and McLemore, the sharpshooting guard from Kansas, were still available. But new general manager Ryan McDonough and new coach Jeff Hornacek went for Len.
The pick in Thursday’s draft was the highest for the Suns since they chose Armon Gilliam second overall in 1987.
With its second pick in the first round, Phoenix made a trade with Golden State to move up a notch to No. 29, selecting 18-year-old Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin. The Suns see the 6-foot-5 Goodwin as a point guard. He led Kentucky in scoring in his one season there at 14.1 points per game but shot just 36 percent.
A Parade and McDonald’s All-America at Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood, Ark., Goodwin was second on the team in assists (2.7 per game) and steals (1.1) per game. His 466 points ranked 10th among all freshmen in Kentucky history.
To get the 29th pick, Phoenix traded the 30th selection to Golden State. The Suns selected power forward Alex Oriakhi of Missouri in the second round.
Hornacek said the Suns had Len as their top player and they were concerned he would go to Cleveland at No. 1.
“When Anthony Bennett went first, I think everybody in the room was excited to think that, ‘Hey, the guy that we have rated highest on our board may end up getting there,” Hornacek said, “and that’s exactly what happened with Alex.”
Noel had been projected by many as the No. 1 overall pick, but Hornacek said the Suns preferred Len because of “his overall skill.”
“Is he as good a shot blocker as Noel? Maybe not,” he said, “but he still is long and can block shots and he has the offensive game.”
In a matchup with Kentucky and Noel early last season, Len had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Len had 20 points in a loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals. He served a 10-game suspension to start his freshman season due to NCAA amateurism guidelines.