Wednesday, July 17

Draft limits encourage good decisions from athletes who should be using college to improve skills rather than anxiously leaving to play professionally

This article is part of the Daily Bruin's Orientation Issue 2011 coverage. To view the entire package of articles, columns and multimedia, please visit:

While I was deciding whether or not to use valuable first pass units on Sociology M124A or Education 137, Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee were anxiously waiting to see where they would be selected in the 2011 NBA Draft.

I have to admit to being jealous of the pair. I remember sitting in a Kinsey Pavilion lecture hall next to Lee during spring quarter listening to an unnamed professor drone on about the Protestant Ethic. It wasn’t soon after that Lee withdrew from school and declared for the Draft. I can’t say I blame him ““ sorry, professor, not much you can do to make Max Weber exciting.

But after all was said and done and the picks were made, maybe Malcolm would have been wiser to grin and bear it for another year. Same goes for Honeycutt, who was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 35 overall pick. Lee was taken seven picks later, No. 43 to the Minnesota Timberwolves by way of the Chicago Bulls.

As we know, second-round picks receive no guarantees and with the labor dispute between the NBA owners and their players, the chance to prove yourself in summer leagues is out the window.

The “if” questions will always follow players like Honeycutt and Lee if they don’t cut it in the league.

“What if they were still under Ben Howland’s tutelage?”

“If only they would have stayed in Westwood, they would have both been lottery picks.”

I got the chance to catch up with Lee a little more than a week before the draft at a workout for the Jazz in Salt Lake City and asked him what he would say to those fans and critics who say he should have stayed in school.

“I would just say thank you because I just use that as motivation,” he said. “I feed off stuff like that and I’m an optimistic guy, so I look forward to hearing doubt on my game so all I can say is thank you.”

When Lee declared, Howland said he thought it would have been in his best interest to stay in school. Of course Howland would have liked to have Lee’s defensive services for another season.

But they’re not the only ones. Fans of teams around the country are constantly criticizing players’ decisions to go to the league before they’re ready. Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor had an interesting take.

“I think they all should stay in school until they graduate but he made the decision,” said O’Connor, referring to Lee.

Without sounding like a crotchety old man, I have to side with O’Connor. The NBA needs to revise its policy on draft-eligible college players. It took a step in the right direction in 2006 when it banned high school athletes from coming straight to the league, requiring that players be at least 19 years of age and at least one year removed from high school.

It’s a good thing, too. Anyone remember Korleone Young? I thought not. Kwame Brown? That one didn’t quite pan out. Sebastian Telfair’s career hasn’t exactly gone as planned either.

Perhaps the NBA should take a page out of the NFL’s book, which requires that a player must be at least three years removed from high school. The MLB is the same, although players are allowed to be picked up out of high school. The MLB draft, however, contains 50 rounds, allowing for teams to take chances on high school players.

Better yet, why not make players play college ball for four years. Only seven of the 30 first-round selections this year played their senior season. When UCLA was mired in the season that shall not be named (2010 cough, cough), fans salivated over the idea of Russell Westbrook as the club’s senior point guard, feeding the ball to junior Kevin Love who would then kick it out to role player Michael Roll. Instead, Roll was relied on to do the bulk of the scoring while Westbrook was living it up in Oklahoma City.

One key reason players like Lee and Honeycutt come out early is the concern that their NBA stock will depreciate if they stay another season. Worse yet, if Lee were to stay and suffer another knee injury, who knows where he would end up? If they were all required to stay four years, that risk/reward factor would be absent. What are those players so anxious for anyway? What’s the difference between entering the NBA at the age of 20 as opposed to 22?

Just as I was getting excited to watch another exciting basketball season in the quickly improving Pac-12, the bulk of the headline players left. Honeycutt, Lee, Klay Thompson, Derrick Williams and Isiah Thomas are all gone.

Of course, a large-scale change in the rules like this one would bring the wealth of talent coming into the league to a grinding halt, and O’Connor knows it.

“I wish everyone would stay in school,” he said. “It would make for a bad draft for a few years, but I wish everyone would stay in school.”

Realizing that one UCLA student’s opinion won’t change any minds, here’s to hoping that NBA executives come to their senses before too long and improve the quality of the college game.

Email Sam Strong at [email protected]

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