NBA: For top NBA prospects, a college degree can be a red flag
By Phil Miller
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — There once was no decision to make: College basketball players spent four years in school, used up their eligibility, and if they were good enough, turned pro. But that era is so far in the past, NBA basketball might have evolved into one of the few professions in the world in which a diploma is frequently regarded not as an accomplishment, but as a red flag.
To NBA scouts, getting a B.S. sometimes just means you're halfway to B-U-S-T.
"It can be a hindrance, if there is a perception that their development stopped at some point," Timberwolves president David Kahn said Monday as he oversaw workouts for a dozen NBA hopefuls at Target Center. "It can be a good thing or a bad thing."
Certainly it's an unusual thing. Since college players won the right to enter the draft early more than three decades ago, it's become rare for a potential top-10 pick to stay in school for four years. There is too much money at stake, too much risk of injury, most players figure, so the draft, even under the NBA's rule prohibiting teams from drafting players until one year after high school graduation, has become dominated by underclassman.
Only four college seniors were selected in the first round of last June's NBA draft, and just one, Louisville guard Terrence Williams, No. 11 to New Jersey, went in the lottery. This year might be even more lopsided; no college seniors are projected to be selected in the top half of the first round.
Greivis Vasquez knows the numbers, which is why he originally declared his intention to enter the draft a year ago before withdrawing minutes before the league's deadline. And while an NBA career is now his most important goal, the Venezuelan guard says that's only because he checked off his previous No. 1 at Maryland's commencement ceremony last Friday.
"I got the Bob Cousy Award (as the nation's best collegiate point guard) and ACC Player of the Year — and last week I got my degree, which is more important," Vasquez said Monday after working out for NBA scouts and executives at the Wolves-organized private workouts for draft prospects, which will go on all week at Target Center. "It was so cool. If you had asked me six years ago, I would have told you I'd never get my degree. It's a dream come true."
Even if it means that, having turned 23 in January, he's practically a senior citizen in a process that worships youth.
"I think it definitely helps me in terms of experience. I played with my national team, I played four years in college — it wasn't easy, but I feel more confident," said the 6-6 point guard, who led the ACC in assists and finished second in scoring last season while leading the Terrapins to their first regular-season league title since 2002. "My decision-making got better, my game got better (during his senior year). They know what I can do."
See, that's part of the problem, oddly enough. There's no mystery about a player so experienced — and in an odd way, the most valuable quality in an NBA draftee these days is "projectibility." Seniors might be good, polished players, ready to step in and contribute. But teen-agers with world-class, if raw, athleticism? Maybe there's a Hall of Famer in there.
"Somebody who's only one year out (of high school), it's a question of how much more their body will develop. Where's their ceiling?" Kahn said. "The more that they played in college, the easier it is to figure out where that ceiling is."
And what if four-year players dominate workouts against freshmen and sophs?
"He's actually perceived as being at an advantage just due to the fact that he's older," Kahn said. "He's supposed to be more accomplished."
That's not to say that seniors such as Vasquez, or Kansas guard Sherron Collins, make a mistake when they delay their pro careers. In many cases, it gives players time to correct their flaws and make them more likely to succeed.
"It's a tricky decision for the kids, and it's a tricky thing for us," Kahn said. "It really depends on whether they use the time wisely." Vasquez, for example, focused on proving he can play point guard as well as carry the scoring load, a talent that might have lifted him from the second round into the bottom of the first round next month. In doing so, he also became the first ACC player ever to pile up 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds in his career.
Oh, and he had lots of fun, too — and few regrets. "We beat Duke on my Senior Night. It was one of the highlights of my career," Vasquez said. "I'm happy I came back to Maryland. It made a huge impact on me, on the court and off."