Junious Smith III: One-and-done era mercifully coming to an end ... hopefully

Junious Smith III: One-and-done era mercifully coming to an end ... hopefully

Here we go again.

I didn’t catch the first four minutes of Wednesday’s UNC-Duke game (won by the Tar Heels 88-72 in case someone hadn’t seen the score), but the commentary was dominated by Zion Williamson’s injury just 33 seconds into the game.

Williamson, who’s been touted as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, suffered a knee sprain and he’s listed as day-to-day, if he decides to return. Immediately, the argument of whether college players should be paid or not sprang up as Luke Maye and the rest of the Tar Heels dominated inside. (The game was an afterthought to many, but not me.)

While I’m all for players receiving money off of their abilities and likeness, I’d rather see the entire one-and-done era eliminated — and it’s coming soon.

In July 2018, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview, "My personal view is that we're ready to make that change. It won't come immediately, (but) when I've weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her (Commission on College Basketball) have recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league and in essence the college community is saying, 'We do not want those players anymore,' I think that tips the scale in my mind."

An ESPN.com report stated teams have been told privately by league officials not to expect it to happen prior to the 2022 NBA Draft, but it’s at least a start.

There have been 45 players drafted in the NBA straight from high school, starting with Reggie Harding in 1962. Of those players, 10 saw at least one All-Star game and at least 12 others (such as Darryl Dawkins, Shaun Livingston, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith and Lou Williams) played or are playing significant roles for teams.

At the worst, that’s a 49 percent rate of success and 32 of those players were selected in the first round, which should count for something. Teams have bought high on potential over a college resume for decades — in last year’s NBA Draft, 18 freshmen and 11 seniors were selected.

I’m not saying it always pans out (like Kwame Brown), but there’s plenty of precedent.

The one-and-done rule was placed after the 2005 Draft, but I’ve always looked at it as a way for the NCAA to pick up additional revenue. The players aren’t getting paid, but everyone else benefits immensely when a touted high school star enrolls.

According to Business Insider, between 2016 and 2018, Duke averaged more than $33 million per season in revenue, picking up a profit of $31.2 million in 2016. The media plays a role in the Blue Devils receiving exposure, along with the team’s history, but without the talents of the players, the product suffers.

The counter-argument is usually “they get a full-ride scholarship” and “look at the experiences.” According to U.S. News, the average tuition and fees to go to Duke in 2018-19 is $55,960 with room and board coming in at $15,944. We’re looking at roughly $70,000 per student multiplied by 15 players, which brings us to $1.05 million per season — about 3.3 percent of the school’s 2016 basketball revenue.

Don’t forget the top players aren’t going to use the scholarship for the full four years, which could’ve gone to someone actually looking to get a degree instead of using the school as a stopgap.

(As far as the experience: well, nothing beats March Madness and the passionate students, so I don’t have much of a counter here.)

It doesn’t help the league’s developmental system isn’t appreciated nearly as much. There’s no issue for baseball players going straight from high school to the pros because of the hierarchy in place — Low A, High A, Double A, Triple A, MLB. The NBA’s G-League doesn’t garner nearly the amount of respect or notoriety.

A freshman has been the top pick in every NBA Draft since 2010 and the trend looks to continue this summer. How much experience did many of them acquire, knowing they could’ve just gone to the league and made millions without the risk of getting hurt playing for nothing?

It’s true a younger player could use financial guidance, but seasoned college athletes have gone broke as well. We’ve seen examples of success and failure from every angle here, so why not let an NBA-ready 18-year-old go out there? Not everyone is LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, but we didn’t need a year of college to know Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant were ready for the league.

As a Carolina fan, I was happy for Wednesday’s win, but as someone looking at the bigger picture, I hope Zion will be alright. Most of us felt he had the tools to play well in the NBA and while there’s no clue what the short and long-term future holds for him (or if he’ll even play another game for Duke) he deserves his shot at the NBA.

By the way, I don’t want him to sit out for the rest of the season. I want him healthy and no excuses to be made on March 9.

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