Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr., right, is fouled under the hoop by Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, left, during second half NBA action in Toronto on Friday March 16, 2018. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Photo: Chris Young/AP
Photo: Chris Young/AP

How an NBA rule change helped create a mess for college basketball

In 2005, the NBA created a rule that prevented 18-year-old high school seniors from jumping directly to pro basketball. Intended to allow young athletes time to mature before entering the NBA, the rule brought about "one-and-done" college players and could be one of the root causes of a burgeoning college basketball scandal.

The rule, part of the NBA collective bargaining agreement, led directly to the influx of freshmen who play one year of college basketball before entering the NBA draft. It also increased the temptation for some high school stars and their families — who fear they're missing out on millions of dollars — to accept money from agents or apparel companies.

In September, the FBI and other federal authorities announced a sweeping investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball. According to the FBI indictments, families of college basketball recruits were paid $100,000 and more.

At the core of the FBI investigation was money from athletic apparel giant adidas allegedly being used to pay the families of basketball recruits in exchange for attending colleges with adidas deals, to pay college coaches to veer those players toward certain agents and financial advisers linked to the apparel company.

A spokesman for N.C. State, which has an apparel contract with adidas, said earlier this month that the university had received a subpoena in January requesting documents related to the case. The News & Observer reported on Friday that the subpoena requested documents related to the recruitment of point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who played for the Wolfpack as a freshman last year before being drafted by the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who built his Duke program around one-and-done players in recent years, has nonetheless said he'd be in favor of letting high school players jump straight to the pros.

The nation's best high-school basketball players don't like it.

All of which begs the question: Why should someone have to be 19 years old or one year out of high school to be able to play in the NBA?

The NBA reconsiders

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the rule isn't working and there are reports that he may be ready to change it.

According to a report by Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is considering a change that would end the rule. The report said the NBA could give elite high school players alternate paths to the NBA, whether in select basketball academies or through its developmental G League.

No longer would colleges be used as a one-year "pit stop," as NCAA president Mark Emmert has referred to it.

Silver last fall met with NBAPA executive director Michele Roberts and the newly formed Commission on College Basketball to discuss several issues, including "one-and-done" problems. The commission, which is chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, was created after the FBI announced its investigation in September.

In a press conference before the 2017 NBA Finals, Silver said the eligibility rule was "not working for anyone."

"We think we have a better draft when we've had an opportunity to see these young players play at an elite level before they come into the NBA," Silver said. "On the other hand, I think the question for the league is in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger?"

Ten of the first 11 picks in the 2017 NBA draft were college freshmen, including Smith, taken ninth by the Dallas Mavericks. In the past 10 drafts, 55 one-and-done players have been taken in the NBA draft lottery, which represents the top 14 picks in each year's draft.

"I think they should change the rule," N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said recently. "If you're good enough to go play, nobody should tell you (you) shouldn't be able to."

Mixed results

A little history: The first high-school player to enter pro basketball was center Moses Malone, who signed with the ABA in 1974 and went into the NBA when the leagues merged. Two other high-schoolers followed, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby, both in 1975.

In 1995, the arrival and instant success of Kevin Garnett out of high school made immediate entry into the NBA more the norm. Kobe Bryant came, then Jermaine O'Neal, both first-round draft picks.

NBA scouts began to pack more high school gyms and more first-round picks were used on high-schoolers. Some were great picks — LeBron James in 2003 an obvious example. Some were not — Kwame Brown, a 6-foot-11 center who was the first overall pick in 2001 by the Washington Wizards.

Brown fizzled, as did other high school kids not yet mature enough or their games polished enough to play in the NBA. David Stern, then the NBA commissioner, proposed a minimum age of 20 for entry into the league but the NBA and NBA Players Association settled on 19 as the minimum age and the "one year removed from high school" as the criteria.

The one-and-done era of college basketball also was about to begin. A total of 113 freshmen have been drafted since 2006, 21 from Kentucky and 10 from Duke — North Carolina and N.C. State each have had two.

"There's nothing perfect," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "The one-and-done has been helpful to the NBA because they haven't made as many mistakes."

FBI documents

Earlier this month, Yahoo Sports reported that N.C. State, Duke, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan State, Southern Cal and other schools were named in documents as having players who are alleged to have received various amounts of impermissible benefits.

The first-year contract for NBA rookie Smith with the Dallas Mavericks pays the former N.C. State guard $2.6 million this season. Without the NBA rule, he could have bypassed college and made big bucks last season in the NBA.

Yahoo Sports reported that discovery documents in the federal investigation into college basketball showed Smith accepted money from former sports agent Andy Miller and his firm, ASM Sports. Smith did not sign with ASM after his one year with the Wolfpack in 2016-17.

A balance sheet cited in the story, dated Dec. 31, 2015, notes that Smith had received a loan for $43,500. Other documents in the Yahoo report state that Smith owed $73,500 in loans he received from ASM.

"And this is just one agent," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Do you not think these other agents aren't doing anything, not going after parents and talking to parents? Agents are going to do that."

"I don't mind guys coming for one year. We've had them. But if they really want to go, they should be able to go."

Spurring change

Krzyzewski, who won an NCAA championship in 2015 with one-and-done players, has nonetheless spoken out against the NBA rule. In a Fox Sports podcast in November, he said, "I would totally be for kids being able [to go to the NBA], and have always been in favor of kids being able to go right to the pros and not putting any restrictions on them as to how long they have to stay"

The allegations stemming from the FBI investigation now could spur change. It's possible the league and NBAPA could agree to lower the age to 18.

A change in the rules would mean that players like Duke's Marvin Bagley III or former Kentucky star John Wall or N.C. State's Smith would never play a game of college basketball in future seasons.

"I do not think it would affect our game one bit if guys go straight to the NBA from high school," Keatts said.

Boeheim noted it might only affect six or eight players a year, saying, "That's not going to change anything. Not one thing. We can easily survive that."

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