February 16, 2009

Ohio State "One and Dones": The State of the Early Entry Player in College Basketball

It wouldn't be the middle of February unless there was talk of multiple Ohio State underclassmen leaving for the NBA Draft. You can practically set your watch to it. It's been lurking all year for freshman BJ Mullens, but now you can throw sophomore Evan Turner and freshman William Buford into the mix now that they've both played exceptionally well during Big Ten play. Now that the cat is out of the bag, you can bet that all three of those names will be popping up all season and right up until the deadline for declaring for the Draft. Mullens is still considered a lottery pick, Turner is suddenly at #16 on DraftExpress, and even Buford is getting some first round talk with room to move up higher if he keeps playing this well. Predictably, the columns are starting to pop up lamenting the current system of "one and done."

As is usually the case with sports columnists, this column is woefully off target. Bob Hunter seems to be intent on blaming the system of "one and done" for ruining Ohio State basketball instead of focusing on the guy who is ultimately responsible for the roster. Thad Matta!! Instead of whining about how unfair it is that Ohio State keeps losing players every year, how about questioning why Matta insists on bringing these guys in instead of going after a balanced mix of 3-4 year players and "one and dones??" It's not the fault of the NCAA that Matta has recruited six "five star" guys in the last three years, and every one of those five star guys (Oden, Cook, Koufos, Mullens) other than Conley (and maybe Buford) was a lock to go pro after one year. Did Matta really think he was going to keep those guys for more than one year?? If so, he's incredibly naive.

The columnist in the Columbus Dispatch is making college basketball out to be one of two choices: take "one and dones" and win or pass on them and lose. How can he even make that argument with a straight face when there are examples all over college basketball of teams with a boatload of very good 3-4 year players?? You can win without "one and dones." No one is putting a gun to Thad Matta's head saying that he has to take Koufos and Mullens and Buford if he wants to win basketball games. He could have easily gone after a bunch of 4 year guys instead and coached them up like he did at Xavier or like Tom Izzo has done at Michigan State. You see those types of kids at programs all over the Midwest: Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin. Just about every player on those teams is a four year player. Matta made the decision HIMSELF to go after "one and dones." When you get burned, you can't turn around and blame the system. Does anyone think Hunter would be writing this column if Ohio State had several good young freshmen and sophomores who weren't candidates to go to the NBA?? If Kosta Koufos was a 6'8" big man instead of a 7 footer, would we be hearing all this complaining about "the system" emanating from the Buckeye Hoops Nation??

Recruiting Kosta Koufos was a complete waste of time, and I'd throw BJ Mullens in there as well, especially for a program like Ohio State that is still trying to find itself and build up some depth. I could see recruiting those guys if you already have a loaded team and just need that stud freshman to top it off, but as a foundation for your program?? No way. What was the point of recruiting Kosta Koufos?? He never had any intent to play more than one year and almost considered playing in Greece immediately after high school. And then you compound the problem by taking on Mullens?? Wouldn't it have made more sense to try lock up an Ohio kid like Tom Pritchard for the next four years? When you put all your eggs into the "one and done" basket, chances are that you are going to get burned. It's not a solution to have a consistently good program.

Don't get me wrong, I think Thad Matta is an outstanding coach, and I think he's done a really good job bringing along an incredibly young team. After David Lighty went down, they could have folded up, but they've been playing good basketball and probably will be a threat down the stretch. For a guy who has had to inherit an entirely new roster every single year, Matta does a good job of developing his teams. But if he's looking for someone to blame on why he has an entirely new roster every year in the first place, he can start by looking in the mirror. And I would suspect that he'll be in the same predicament again next year.

That brings me back to the early entry thing. The dumbest thing being trotted out there in defense of kids staying in school is the "he's not ready for the NBA" canard that we've heard from hacks like Dick Vitale for years. HUH?? Since when has the NBA Draft been about who is ready for the NBA?? It's the DRAFT. You are drafting on potential. Vitale was ranting and raving on Saturday night at the OSU-Wisconsin game that BJ Mullens should stay at Ohio State because he's not ready for the NBA. Who is saying he's ready for the NBA?? NO ONE. It's a false argument. No one thinks Mullens is ready for the NBA right now. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that he is not, and Dickie V isn't spewing some great insight by declaring that. But that's not the criteria for deciding whether or not to declare for the draft.

The only thing that matters is that Mullens is PROJECTED to be a lottery pick this year. If you are a lottery pick, you are taking a huge risk by coming back to school. If Mullens comes back next year and still hasn't gotten much better, he goes from a lottery pick to a late first rounder at best. Will Dickie V then offer to pick up the tab on all the money he lost by doing that?? I don't think so. Mullens' value is probably at an all-time high right now because no one has seen enough of him to know what his true potential is. So someone will draft him after this year because he's an athletic 7 footer (even though he has no moves and can't rebound). Whether or not he's "ready" doesn't really matter.

Besides, if you are going to play in the NBA someday, wouldn't it make more sense to get to the league as soon as possible so that you can start working on your game year round?? A guy like Mullens can go to some place like Golden State and spend every day working on his game and getting stronger and playing against the best competition in the world. You don't have political science classes or study sessions or a bunch of games against the McNeese States of the world that do nothing for your game. Is it really going to do Mullens any good to have another year learning how to score against Robbie Hummel?? Why not go to the league and learn how to play against guys like Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol?? If you listen to any NBA player out there, they will tell you that the NBA is a completely different animal from college basketball and that you need to get to the league as soon as possible to learn what it's like to compete at that level.

Oh and I forgot one other thing.....you get paid!! Millions of dollars. If you are a first round pick, you might as well start your clock so that you can get to free agency and start making the big dollars.

If Mullens decides to stay at Ohio State, good for him. I don't think by any means that he HAS to go to the NBA if he's not mentally ready to put the work in. Maybe he just wants to be a kid for another year. There's nothing wrong with making the decision to come back to school, and maybe he genuinely cares about Ohio State and wants to try to win a Big Ten title next year. Maybe he doesn't care about the money right now. But it is ABSURD for a guy like Dick Vitale to scold him on national tv for thinking about coming out for the NBA Draft. Yo Vitale, why don't you call your buddy Chad Ford and find out where Mullens is projected in the draft? Whether he's ready for the league or not, he's a lottery pick right now. If you are looking to blame someone, blame the NBA franchises for falling in love with 7 footers.

As for Evan Turner and William Buford, I know they have sort of skyrocketed up the NBA draft lists this year, but it's not like you couldn't see this coming. When you recruit 6'6" shooting guards with big time skills and play them 40 minutes a game, they are probably going to play themselves into the NBA Draft. Both those guys are great players and have tailor-made size and skills for the NBA. It's not like Turner is a 6'2" shooting guard who is dreaming big dreams and getting carried away. Would I love to see both of them come back?? No doubt about it, but I will not be surprised if one or both of them leave.

I was once in the camp of lamenting players leaving for the pros and declaring that leaving was a mistake and all that, but I've seen more often than not that your age doesn't matter. If you work hard and have the natural ability, you can declare at just about any age and work yourself into a quality NBA player. A perfect example is Daequan Cook. When this guy played his one year at Ohio State, I thought he was an absolute bum. Bad shot selection, no defense, shaky chemistry guy, and a little bit of a team cancer. He hardly even played down the stretch or in the NCAA Tournament. When he declared for the NBA Draft after his freshman season, I figured he would be playing in the NBDL someday at best.

But now? He's making me look foolish. Cook is in his 2nd year, he's scoring about 10 points a game, playing about 25 minutes a game, and he just won the 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend. And oh by the way, he's 21 years old. I think he may even end up having a better career than Greg Oden and Mike Conley. I never thought I would say that in a million years. Even though he certainly "wasn't ready for the NBA" when he was 19 and had some major growing pains in his first year in the league, it didn't matter. He worked on his game, and now he's doing pretty well. Would I say that he made a mistake by coming out after his freshman year?? Ummm, no. That ended up being a great decision, and staying at Ohio State would have only delayed him from getting acclimated to the NBA.

Look at Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson for example. These guys were lottery picks after their freshman year. Now?? Ty Lawson is going to be LUCKY to even get drafted in the first round. Same with Ellington. Both those guys are OLDER than Daequan Cook right now!! They are going to be NBA rookies next year (or the year after in Ellington's case), and Cook is going to be in his 3rd year. I know they got to play at Carolina and pursue their dreams of playing for a national title, but was it a good decision for their NBA careers?? Heck no. Does anyone think Ellington is more ready to contribute in the NBA right now than a guy like Daequan Cook who is already playing and doing good things in the league?? So Dickie V, stop with the "he's not ready" argument. It's one of the dumbest straw man arguments in sports today.

The other thing that comes up a lot as a solution for college basketball is bringing the baseball version of the draft to the NCAAs. When you leave high school, you either declare for the draft or you commit to go to college for 3 years. The Greg Odens of the world can go off to the league after high school, and the rest of the guys can go to college and play for three years without having people pester them after every game about whether or not they are going to the NBA. Coaches would benefit because they can plan their rosters for a few years without worrying about being blindsided by early entries. Colleges benefit because they can get a guaranteed return on the investments that they make in giving scholarships and room and board to these players. Sounds perfect, right??

Hey, I'd love to see it as a fan of college hoops, but is it fair to a kid like Evan Turner?? If Evan Turner has played his way into the middle of the first round after his second year, who is to say that he shouldn't be able to go to the NBA?? Does he benefit more from that third year at Ohio State or by learning how to play in the NBA on the bench of the Dallas Mavericks?? Isn't there an argument that the best interest of the kid is to leave the door open for him to leave??

Let me reiterate that I would love to see all three of those guys back at Ohio State. They are good kids and great players, and Ohio State can win the Big Ten next year if they all come back (maybe even if just two of them come back). And for all I know, they may all come back. But if they decide to leave, I think it would be silly to whine and cry about how unfair the system is that lets them go to the league. If they want to go and are going to get drafted in the first round, more power to them.

I would say the same thing for Luke Harangody by the way. If he graduates from school and wants to go to the league and get paid and start working on having a good NBA career, then I'm happy for him. I can't fault a guy for wanting to do that. His stock probably isn't going to get that much better if he's back for his senior year unless the 2010 draft happens to be unusually weak. He's a 2nd rounder whenever he comes out. I think Luke will be back because he loves ND and wants to enjoy college as long as possible, but I can understand why he would leave. The only way he's going to find out if he can be an NBA power forward is by getting there and finding out how he stacks up.


k said...

AMEN. One of the best pieces every produced by the boys from WeisND. Just great, great analysis all the way around. I had a similar conversation with Stan about Vitale's comments during the game the other night. Just absurd. When does ESPN finally pull the plug on this clown. Can't wait until he turns purple on the air after every NBA team passes on Psycho T at this year's draft. If Dickie V was running an NBA franchise, he'd have all white shooting guards and Shane Battier in the post. What a joke this guy is. Great work.

Stan said...

Great work Doug. As Kenny said we had a very similar discussion last night.

I was having this arument with a guy at work a couple years ago about Tyler Hansborough. This guy was pretty high up and probably made 200K a year. I finally said to the guy, "John (his name was John) if he leaves he is going to make 5-10 million dollars next year. At your current salary it is going to take 25 years to make 5 million." Of course for some unknown reason Tyler Hansborough has stayed in school for 4 years, but what else do you need to know.

As a Buckeye fan it is pretty annoying that we have to deal with lousy players like Mullens, but we did make the final game two years ago.

kevin said...

Beyond the money argument, which is absurd, the whole "his game isn't ready for the NBA" argument is pretty stupid as well. If a bunch of NBA GM's are telling a kid that they are going to select him as a lottery pick, well, that's all the proof that I need that people that know more about basketball than I believe his "game" is ready. Are you trying to tell me that NBA GM's are out there selecting players on potential that is 3 or 4 years out? Baloney! This is not Major League Baseball. If a GM selects a guy in the lottery, he thinks that player can play 20 minutes, and put up at least 10 and 5 within 2 years. And that's probably on the low end. CLEARLY, certain players blossom later, but no way in the NBA system where roughly 7 guys on any roster make contributions that GM's are drafting lottery picks with a 4 year timeline.

There aren't very many Shaqs that walk into the league and average 20+ from the get-go. There are just as many examples of guys who averaged 25 and 10 in college who took two years to meaningfully contribute as there are guys who averaged 11 and 5 in college and took two years to contribute. And technically, regardless of their college stats, were their "games" not equally ready (or not ready depending on how you look at it) for the NBA? Regardless of what my eyes or Dick Vital or Jay Bilas tell me about a player's COLLEGE "game," if a GM is taking him in the lottery, I tend to believe, whether I can see it or not, the player has a skill set to develop into a contributor in 2 years if the work is put in and the environment is right.