Editor’s note: Each week, ESPN.com writers will debate a topic of interest in the college basketball landscape. Today's topic: Is an age limit for the NBA a worthwhile initiative? Is there a better alternative to the one-and-done rule? Also: Check out Jason King's lists of 10 players who are flourishing in the NBA after spending just one season in college and 10 who haven't been as fortunate.
Was there any reason for LeBron James to go to college? Of course not. The same goes for Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and a handful of others.
For the most part, though, surefire first-round NBA draft picks who have been forced to spend one year in school the past seven seasons have benefited a great deal.
And the high school kids who would’ve made a terrible decision under the old rule and entered the draft came to realize just how much a year in college can help.
That’s why it wouldn’t bother me a bit if players were forced to spend two years in school.
Talented as they may be, most 18-year-old kids are incredibly immature and haven’t received the type of discipline and coaching it takes to make it in the NBA. The majority of them have been coddled throughout high school and have a false sense of just how good they really are. They get bad advice from handlers and hangers-on and are allowed to do anything they want on the court.
As a result, they have a sense of entitlement. Sure, there are exceptions. But most kids need to spend a year or two being taught -- and hardened -- by top-flight coaches such as John Calipari, Bill Self, Jim Boeheim or Roy Williams. They need to be taught how to become better teammates and the importance of playing tough defense and sharing the basketball.
As much as he would’ve loved to enter the NBA draft out of high school, I’m certain John Wall will tell you that spending a year at Kentucky was one of the best things for his career. And I’m confident there are plenty of other NBA players who feel the same way about their time in college.
If you let kids enter the draft straight out of high school, you’ll have too many who will make bad decisions. They’ll go undrafted, spend a year or two in the D-League and fizzle out. If they spend two years in school, they’ll develop on and off the court. Adding another year will also help programs that continue to have trouble establishing stability (i.e. Texas) because of so many players leaving school after just one season.
Another option would be the addition of an “evaluation committee” by the NBA that determines approximately where a high school kid considering the draft would be selected. If the player was definitely going to be a first-rounder, the committee would “approve” him to enter the draft. Anyone else would have to spend two years in college. That would allow players who have no business in college (LeBron, Kobe, etc.) the chance to turn pro out of high school while saving the Korleone Young's of the basketball world.
I went to a high school with a guy who was really handy with cars, gifted in the same way a pianist who can play by ear is gifted.
He didn’t go to college after graduation. He went to work. No one gasped in horror then, and now that he’s gone on to do pretty well for himself, no one rues what might have been.
The same should be true of basketball players. They are gifted like prodigies and skilled like mechanics. At a somewhat precocious age they show a deft ability to dribble, shoot, dunk or block a basketball. They need college about as much as Mozart needed middle school.
So why bother? What, besides a mockery of academia, is gained by forcing them to go to college?
We roll them out for a year and call them student athletes. We tout their GPAs and remind everyone that they're regular Joes who go to class regularly (for a whole two semesters), and extol their growth into young adulthood -- as if a year of chartered planes, team meals, tutors, free gear and adulation mimics a real college experience.
Is Anthony Davis really that much more seasoned now than he was a year ago? Hardly. Yet we forced him, and plenty of others like him, to go to college because, like eating your broccoli, it’s supposed to be good for him.
The truth is these guys would prefer to be students of the game of basketball. We make that seem like a bad thing. It isn’t.
If you are blessed with an ability that can be honed outside of a classroom -- like a tennis player, figure skater, gymnast, golfer, painter, dancer, cellist, plumber, or mechanic -- then you should be allowed to enjoy your craft immediately.
I know the NBA argues that a year in college will better prepare players emotionally and mentally for the rigors of professional basketball. Except college campuses aren’t meant to be daycare centers and the NBA is a business, not a helicopter parent.
Sure, some kids will fail. They’ll have an overinflated sense of their worth and talent, and they’ll spend draft day next to a telephone that never rings.
It’s also life.
The rest of the world, the non-coddled majority, makes their own decisions and lives with the consequences.
Some kids go to college for four years. Some kids go to college for four years and make the dean’s list.
Some kids go to college and drop out. Some kids never go to college.
Some succeed wildly and some don’t.
That’s what happens when you’re given free will -- you make a choice for yourself and for your life. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
College isn’t for everybody. Some guys are really good tinkering with cars. And some guys are really good tinkering with a basketball.
Both should be able to pursue their careers when they believe they are ready.
More: Read Myron Medcalf's piece on the history of the NBA's minimum age requirement and how we got to this point in the one-and-done debate.