The NBA is steadily laying the foundation for the end of the rule requiring basketball prospects to wait a year after graduating from high school before declaring for the NBA Draft. Adam Silver has been making noise about this for a while, and Condoleezza Rice’s otherwise useless commission recommended it, and anyway the rule is dumb and unfair, and puts America’s best high school players in the tough spot of having to go overseas if they want to avoid giving away a year of work to the NCAA for virtually nothing.
The NCAA jumped the gun in announcing a package of eligibility rules that nudged the basketball world toward an end to the one-and-done rule earlier this summer. The new rules functionally required the participation of USA Basketball and, to a lesser extent, the NBA—something neither body was necessarily all that ready to offer—but today the NCAA, the NBA, and the NBA Players Association announced an expansion of their support of USA Basketball and the Junior National Team, in ways that are explicitly designed to address the professional readiness of elite high school basketball prospects:
USA Basketball has identified top young players for decades and brought them together to train for international competitions. Now the program will be extended to approximately 80 players, or about 20 per high school class, and the NBA will provide health and wellness training, as well as assisting in other developmental programs. The series of training camps and competitions will begin in October at USA Basketball’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The idea here is pretty simple. Part of the reason why the NBA put the one-and-done rule in place back in 2005 was because NBA general managers kept shooting themselves in the dick by drafting high-upside high school seniors, without a real plan in place for how they would develop as either future stars or, you know, young adults with millions of dollars in their bank accounts. But existing NCAA rules made it treacherous for coaches and personnel managers and agents to interact with players prior to them forgoing college eligibility and declaring for the NBA draft. This created a situation where high school kids were prohibited from benefiting from the perspective and guidance of NBA-adjacent adults while they were making a point-of-no-return decision about their basketball futures.
The gap in the NCAA’s new rules—as they pertained to high schoolers, and beyond the fact that they’re still not paying college players for their labor—was in how those “top young players” would be identified, and whether an infrastructure existed to do more than just write some names down on a sheet of paper and tack it to a bulletin board somewhere. It’s certainly a change to say these few players are allowed to test the draft waters without losing their eligibility, but it doesn’t address the readiness problem that prompted the rule in the first place, without structures in place to support and develop the players. Wednesday’s announcement fills in some of that uncertainty:
The expanded program will provide doctors, athletic trainers and experts in health and performance year-round to the players and be led by longtime Boston Celtics athletic trainer Ed Lacerte. Once fully operational, not only will it improve training and care but will give NBA officials and teams the chance to work with and evaluate players for several years before they enter draft eligibility.
[T]he elite young players will also receive life skills training on a variety of topics from positive decision-making to navigating the college recruitment process. Also for the first time, there will be sessions for parents and guardians to prepare them for the process of their sons playing basketball at the highest levels.
The program is expected to be up and running this fall, but there will undoubtedly be kinks, and anyway the NBA isn’t expected to abolish the one-and-done rule before 2021, per a memo sent to teams back in June. Time will tell how well this system will work, but the goal is a worthwhile one: a not-too-distant future where the best high school players in the country are allowed to go straight to the pros, and also are better prepared for everything that decision entails.