By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Here’s my take on the new G-League $500,000 bonanza that has been created by the powers that be in the NBA. It could be great for college basketball but maybe not so good for the individual players. Here’s why.
Going forward, most of the players that think they are too good to go to college can now head directly to the G-League. They have the opportunity to prove that all that talent they believe they have can translate into a long, lucrative career in the NBA. No more will they be held back by demanding college coaches who insist that they be disciplined as individuals; that they learn how to play a team sport as a team; that they show up ready to go everyday, do their educational assignments appropriately and learn how to manage their time. Like most teenagers usually want, they can have all the freedom they have ever wanted, except when they begin playing against grown men who have been diligently working on their game for years.
Without the structure that a great college program can provide many of these players have the potential to waste their enormous talent as they try to figure out what life is all about at 18-years old.
So many UK players have credited the preparation they received from Calipari and his staff as one of the major reasons they have been successful in the professional ranks. Players like Anthony Davis, John Wall, Karl Anthony-Towns, along with many others, all credit their time at Kentucky as great preparation for the transition to professional basketball and adulthood.
Karl Anthony-Towns, after his initial time in preparation for joining the NBA’s Timberwolves, said, “It feels like I already played a full professional season having been at the University of Kentucky. Put that with the amount of away games we had there and we were also never home, so I transitioned well into the NBA with the travel and everything. It just has come easier for me than for a lot of people.”
So if a player skips playing for a basketball program like UK will they be missing necessary preparation that will help them be successful long term in the NBA? Former UK player Keldon Johnson seems to think so. Here’s what he said last year as he was preparing to enter the NBA Draft. Johnson said, “I think that it definitely prepared me, playing for Coach Cal and all of the other coaches, they really prepared me and made me tough mentally throughout the season and I definitely think that he put me in a good position for me to excel.” Johnson went on to say, “My hat goes off to coach Cal and the rest of the coaching staff. They have done an amazing job preparing me for this level right here.”
As this new G-League salary scale goes into effect, players that jump from high school to the G-League for one year will miss out on that preparation that Towns and Johnson received at UK. It appears that these highly paid G-League players will receive some type of special instruction from NBA-level coaches in an exhibition-type setting but is that a good substitute for a 31 game high level major college schedule and a potential run through a conference tournament and NCAA Tournament?
And what about the daily practices and scrimmages over the 5-6 months of the season against other NBA-caliber players? That won’t necessarily happen if a player is assigned to a G-League exhibition-type team.
The other thing to keep in mind from this new G-League scenario is that not all players that get a $500,000 contract are going to be successful and make it to the NBA. If they don’t make it, what do they do long term?
For a player that has played for a major university they usually still have the option to return to school, obtain a degree and pursue a different career other than professional basketball. Former UK All-American and NBA All-Star John Wall believes that should be important to all basketball players. He said, “When our career is over, when we retire and the basketball stops bouncing, we still have to find something else to do.” And that something else may require some additional education beyond the high school level.
Now for college basketball, as Calipari says about Kentucky, “We’ll be just fine.” Kentucky will be and so will college basketball. A few players will jump from high school to the G-League and some will make the next jump to the NBA. Most likely more high school players will attempt to make the jump and fail, but college basketball will continue on.
More players that do accept a scholarship to play college basketball will most likely stay in college longer, be more in-tune with their team and coach and function more as a student-athlete. NCAA games will still be played at a high level, with very competitive coaches and players and fans will continue to watch games that will feature very talented players. So for fans I don’t think they will see a huge difference, and that’s great for college basketball.
For players and the NBA my opinion is this new scenario only increases the risk for both of them. The NBA will have less to go on when deciding if a player is NBA-ready and usually most 18-year olds aren’t mature enough to make an intelligent, unemotional decision when it comes to something like deciding if they are capable and disciplined enough to succeed long term in the NBA.
So for a player like Jalen Green everything may work out great but for the many other players that may follow his lead in the future life may not turn out as well. There are no shortcuts to long term success.
I think this quote from Hall of Fame coach John Wooden sums up where basketball is today, and with this new change, where it will continue to head. Wooden said, “There are no shortcuts. If you’re working on finding a short cut, the easy way, you’re not working hard enough on the fundamentals. You may get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basics. And the first basic is good, old-fashioned hard work.”
John Wooden is correct. There is no substitute for good, old-fashioned hard work. No matter how the shortcut is packaged.