Last week’s NBA draft set a record for the most freshmen selected in the first round, continuing a trend that has been a direct result of the league’s mandating that all prospects be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft to be selected. This ruling ended a decade of the “prep to pro” era, where stars like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James skipped college altogether and entered the professional ranks immediately after high school. Suddenly after 2005, top prep players were forced to attend college for a year before entering the NBA.

Premier college basketball programs were soon faced with a serious dilemma to remain competitive: pursue the most talented players — despite the fact that they would most likely stay in the program for less than one academic year — or shift recruiting toward less talented players who would play for four years and hopefully develop.

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari was one of the first premier coaches in college basketball to embrace recruiting the so-called “one and done” talent, selling high school phenoms on his ability to best prepare them for the NBA. Many college basketball purists cried foul at this agreement between coach and player, deeming it a mockery of intercollegiate athletics, where players were supposed to stay for four years and graduate.

It is hard to ignore the positive results of college basketball teams that have been lucky enough to acquire the services of a transient freshman player. Calipari’s teams at Kentucky have thrived during his tenure, despite predominantly starting freshmen and experiencing significant roster turnover each year. Calipari has shown a willingness to prioritize talent over experience, which has caused a ripple effect among blue blood programs like Duke, whose title teams of the early 1990s were once known for having upperclassmen in starring roles, while its most recent 2015 championship team was carried by the excellent play of three “one and done” freshmen.

Despite being one of the nation’s premier academic institutions, Duke eschewed the notion that it would only recruit four-year players and it has benefitted greatly from recruiting transient players. Ultimately, this has continued to support its bottom line due to the direct correlation between basketball success and a surge in applications. Enrolling one-year players certainly has not tarnished the school’s academic reputation, while consistently boasting a perennially top-10 basketball program only enhances Duke’s global visibility. Under the direction of legendary Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has shown the ability to have both elite academics and elite basketball.

Meanwhile, Georgetown has never had a player drafted into the NBA after a freshman season, and under former Head Coach John Thompson III, the program was known for encouraging players to seriously pursue a degree while playing basketball. With legend Patrick Ewing now in the fold as head coach, this new era could signal a departure from old recruiting norms for Georgetown.

While Thompson admirably implemented a program with a high graduation rate to go with its incredible talent, times have changed since Georgetown’s near two-decade run of dominance during the ’80s and ’90s. The best players in the country understand the importance of maximizing their earning potential and are far more likely to declare for the draft as an underclassman than they would have been in the past.

Ewing’s resume in the NBA both as an All-Star and assistant coach, coupled with his desire to implement a more up-tempo pro-style offense, is the exact environment top “one and done” recruits seek. Ewing has the experience and accolades to sell kids on how to get to the NBA. If he can orchestrate a quick rebuild, the Hoyas could soon position themselves nicely for the services of the absolute best recruits. The question is whether Georgetown will allow the new staff to pursue this level of talent despite the possibility that these players will not graduate.

This underlying question harkens back to the current landscape of college basketball and where Georgetown thinks it belongs. Men’s basketball is still the flagship sport at Georgetown, and the university puts its money where its mouth is, with the Hoyas’ head coaching job ranking as one of most lucrative in the game. If this level of investment is made on an annual basis, why not show a willingness to sign the most talented players regardless of their commitment to finish in four years? Plus, an individual who leaves early can always return to school and finish their degree. If this reluctance is out of fear of tarnishing the university’s reputation academically, we have seen that it has not hurt Duke one bit.

 

 

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