Brendan Brody reflects on some of this year's early departures from college basketball to the NBA:
In perusing NBADraft.net, Facebook accounts, and media tweets, everyone likes to make their opinions known on who is making a good decision and who isn't when it comes to entering the NBA draft. I used to be guilty of this judgmental activity, as I became a little kid having a temper tantrum any time someone from UNC had the audacity to try and make basketball a professional enterprise without first earning a degree. This angst was based on a very selfish ideal. I am an unabashed college basketball fan who only pays attention to the NBA once the playoffs start. Yet I've had a recent epiphany. And I'm coming to grips with my old selfish ways.
I've seen UVA fans attack Justin Anderson's decision to leave early, and I've seen UNC fans question JP Tokoto for doing the same. Anderson (who I actually coached against when he was but a 7th grader dunking on my Thornburg Jaguars) was in the process of sneaking into the Lottery before the injury that ruined both his and the Cavs' seasons. This cataclysm crushed the team's momentum, as it took the blame for early exits in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. The injury also lowered Anderson's draft stock. However, this year's disappointment appeared to be merely a postponement of an inevitable and still-soon-to-be deep Tournament run. This year would become next year. But then Anderson broke UVA's hopes once again, only this time by choice. And UVA fans responded by breaking rank with their star player, responding to the news by questioning his character, suggesting he had now bailed on his teammates, and for taking off when he's not a sure-fire first round pick.
However, Tokoto's decision was even more puzzling, as it was thought to be a given that with Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson coming back for their senior seasons, Tokoto would follow suit. Gifted with NBA athleticism, he still needs a jump shot and some polish before he even thinks about having an impact in the Association. Yet he chose to go a different route in developing what he needs to work on, knowing that he won't have a primary offensive role next season in Chapel Hill.
These decision are the epitome of what once drove me crazy about college basketball, but now I find myself wondering, who gives a shit what Joe Alumnus or Joe Messageboard says about these players leaving? Recent examples of players who eschewed being a top five pick to come back to school did nothing to enhance their stock by coming back. Harrison Barnes and Marcus Smart had solid sophomore seasons, but had their games picked apart in a more in-depth fashion by staying one more year. They are now contributing in the League for playoff teams. So I would say that things worked out pretty nicely for them. It just seems that players who come back to school instead of leaving get ripped for not "striking while the iron is hot," if they're projected to go in the lottery. And then players who leave without being a guaranteed first-rounder get picked apart in the same fashion, mostly by people like myself, who selfishly want all the best players to stay in college for as long as possible.
But it's time to simply let these players make whatever decisions they want to make and stop questioning what they do. The NBA players who are supposed to make the league will make it, and make an impact whether they stay for one or four years. Who knows, maybe some of them want to make a living playing in another League outside of the US, instead of getting screamed at by Roy Williams or Coach K or Calipari. At the same time, if someone like Arizona's Stanley Johnson thinks that he could benefit from another year in Tuscon, then know that he really won't do much to hurt himself and his stock by sticking around.
Props to Justin and JP for making what they felt were the best calls for themselves. In the end, neither player was going to really move the needle dramatically forward by playing their senior years. Moreover, I'm pretty sure college basketball will survive without them and the 31 other underclassmen that have declared as of this writing. I'm pretty sure Virginia and North Carolina will be in the top 10 still, even after losing two contributors. Lost in all this message board uproar and Twitter subjectivity is that ultimately neither the constancy of the institution nor the potential of the individual appears to be impacted by the players choosing to stay or to leave.
This isn't to say that no college players make horrible decisions to come out early and not even be drafted. But as long as the individual does his homework and is content with his projected Draft position, then he should be left alone to make that decision. Seemingly any NBA roster has a mixture of one-and-dones, four year college players, and those that had to grind it out overseas just to get a chance to make a roster. There's more than one way to succeed in the League. Furthermore, the individuals that combine a strong work ethic with natural talent will always prosper whether they stay for one or four years of college basketball. And, lastly, college basketball, despite its flaws, will still be watched and played, just as it always has been and always will be.
Brendan Brody can be followed @berndon4.