Un-Connon Opinions: Rules against high school-to-NBA jump leave talented players in limbo
Coach Mick Cronin’s first full recruiting class took a hit when five-star point guard Daishen Nix decommitted from UCLA men’s basketball Tuesday morning. The Bruins now have just one incoming freshman. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
By Sam Connon
April 28, 2020 7:09 p.m.
Daishen Nix wasn’t the first top recruit to skip college for the pros, and he won’t be the last.
The five-star prospect’s decision to decommit from UCLA men’s basketball and join the NBA G League sent shockwaves through the internet Tuesday, but it wasn’t unprecedented. Jalen Green chose the same path earlier in April, and Isaiah Todd similarly decommitted from Michigan to pursue a G League contract weeks before Nix did.
Twitter is ablaze with people claiming this is the downfall of the NCAA and that college basketball is on the brink of collapse after this series of G League thefts.
Losing three top-15 prospects to the pros certainly stings, especially on a team-to-team basis. UCLA and Michigan’s recruiting classes have been completely gutted by G League intervention, and the Bruins have fallen from a potential preseason top-25 team to a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 squad.
College basketball, as a whole, will persist – but only with some major changes.
Twenty-plus years ago, this wasn’t as much of a problem. Players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady went straight from high school to the NBA, and late 1990s college basketball didn’t suffer one bit.
The association closed off that path in 2006 by changing its minimum age to 19 years old and requiring players to be at least one year removed from high school before declaring for the NBA Draft.
Nix’s decision to go pro is really no different than the one Dwight Howard and LeBron James made when they were 18. No one is faulting the point guard for trying to make a career for himself and picking hundreds of thousands of dollars over a scholarship to a school he would likely leave before getting his degree.
The only difference is that instead of playing next season in the spotlight of the NBA as Bryant and James did, Nix will be buried in the shadows.
If Nix believes he is ready to turn pro, he shouldn’t have to spend a year in limbo, fighting to stay relevant in bona fide high school gyms. The average attendance for regular-season G League games was 2,465 in 2019, and many teams don’t even have steady TV deals.
Meanwhile, UCLA averaged 10,652 fans per home game in the 2016-2017 season and still broke the 10,000 mark multiple times in 2020.
Scouts will keep an eye on Nix wherever he goes, but the general public will not.
It is understandable that Nix is choosing the money over UCLA in this case – $300,000 for a five-month season is a difficult offer to turn down. However, Nix won’t be nearly as relevant in the G League as he would have been at UCLA.
But like it was for the Hall of Famers listed above, UCLA and the G League shouldn’t be his only two options.
The NBA must revoke its age limit rule and allow the best players in the world to bet on themselves again. Like it or not, the G League is a bargain bin league that very few people have ever shown interest in, and players strapped for cash shouldn’t be forced to play there if college isn’t right for them.
That hasn’t stopped Nix from claiming the developmental league is an attractive alternative.
“Playing in G League is basically getting me ready for the NBA draft,” Nix said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just one step below the NBA.”
The NCAA is also one step below the NBA, and it boasts coaching staffs and branding that are infinitely more reputable and respected than the G League’s.
Nix won’t have to abide by rigid NCAA rules in the G League, which is likely part of the reason he and others are starting to drift toward that option. But a year from now, student-athletes likely won’t have to follow those archaic rules either.
The NCAA announced in October that it would allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness rights, or NIL rights, in the not-too-distant future. All three divisions must have their proposed bylaws to the NCAA by the start of 2021, meaning student-athletes could be able to sign shoe deals and appear on billboards as soon as next year.
According to a report from ESPN, the group the NCAA Board of Governors tasked with researching NIL monetization in October was scheduled to present their recommendations to the board Tuesday. The group reportedly suggested student-athletes should be able to sign with agents and make money from advertisements so long as they aren’t aligning themselves with banned substances and operations or referencing which school they attend.
Former Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro told USA Today on Monday that there was a top-ranked recruit who would soon be announcing his intentions to join the G League, but that he would have gone to college if he had the ability to monetize his NIL rights.
It is unclear if that unnamed player was Nix, but the point still stands – allowing these players to profit off their talent while still in school will stem the flow of top recruits to the G League in the short term.
In the long term, the NBA needs to do its part as well – top-tier players like Nix, Green and Todd shouldn’t have to choose between college and the G League.
Should the NCAA follow through on its proposed rules changes, college athletes will have the freedom to make a steady income through endorsements and autographs, all while continuing to suit up for the country’s most iconic and best-coached programs.
For those who still think they’re above that level, all the power to them.
The NBA just has to actually give that power to them sooner rather than later.