Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (h/t: USA Today)
There was once a time where high school basketball stars could forgo college for the NBA. That was more than a decade ago; 2005 and earlier, to be exact. This rule expedited the NBA debuts of legends like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James, all of whom joined the league just weeks after completing their high school diplomas.
While the jump from high school to the NBA worked out well for Kobe and LeBron, it didn't work out so well for James Lang, Ricky Sanchez, and Ousmane Cisse. Heard of them? Me neither.
Also, Kwame Brown.
The NBA changed the rule after the 2005 NBA Draft, making either college or international play mandatory for prospective NBA players.
The rule change makes sense to many for a plethora of reasons, but it also has many points going against it.
The Benefits of Young Athletes Attending College
There are so many good things about forcing budding young basketball stars to go to college, including but not limited to: providing athletes with a free education, allowing the players to mature physically and emotionally before entering the league, and helping them see that there are career options outside of basketball.
The education that student-athletes receive through attending college, whether it be for one year or four, hugely benefits them through the rest of their lives, particularly their lives following their NBA careers.
1. Free Education
Student-athletes are just that: student-athletes. This means that, yes, your favourite college basketball players are also (probably) attending classes at Kansas, or Duke, or whatever school in which they might be enrolled.
This is important for many reasons outside of the classic, self-explanatory "education is important".
For instance, let's say a college player hurts himself badly and can't play basketball anymore. He has to find some way of providing for his family, and what better way than to capitalize on the free education that they're receiving?
Also, even if a college athlete goes on to the NBA and has a long, healthy career, what will he do when he retires? If not for the money, which he likely won't need, then for the need to do something, anything fulfilling.
2. Physical and Emotional Maturation
LeBron, Kobe, KG, and all the other players who joined the league straight out of high school, all were playing in a man's league as little more than kids. In other words, there was plenty of room for the young guys to grow, in more ways than one.
The average man doesn't fully mature until his early 20s. With guys like Kobe, Andrew Bynum, and Jermaine O'Neal all making their NBA debuts at 18 years of age, they weren't yet done growing, thus having tons of untapped potential in their ability to grow, both in terms of height and weight.
Emotionally, going to college before the NBA allows for a whole lot of growth to occur within the mind of a young basketball star. You see it all the time: a young athlete who can't handle the newfound fame and money that comes with his position. He parties too much, or breaks down, or simply under-performs on the court.
Going to college can help with a lot of this. In a college system, student-athletes can experience a much smaller dose of the NBA lifestyle; the fame to a lesser degree, the pressure to perform on-court a lesser degree, the parties to a lesser degree.
3. Exploring All Options
An 18-year-old kid who has focused on one thing his entire life, basketball, often has not explored other possibilities, or even though about what may happen if there comes a day where he can no longer play the game.
Attending college helps one to realize that there are options outside of basketball, so the more than 80% (per www.ncaa.org) who don't play any form of professional-level basketball, can figure out what they want to do with their lives post-college.
Even for those who do go pro, they need to figure out what to do after their respective basketball careers. This is something that taking a variety of classes can help with at college.
Finally, even for the less than 1% of NCAA student-athletes who go pro before completing a degree, they have the option to go back to college after their NBA career and complete their degree at that time.
The Costs of Young Athletes Attending College
Regarding young basketball stars attending college, just as there are pros, so are there cons.
1. Monetary Concerns
A young high school basketball star has so much to think about. Often, he has to worry about providing for not only his future family, but also his current family, given the situation that many of these young guys grow up in.
Many people dismiss the monetary concerns of student-athletes, citing the free education that they receive as justification for their dismissals. What those people fail to understand is that these guys, while they don't have to pay for much, all need an income of some sort to help provide for their likely-struggling families back home.
If a player were to forgo college for the NBA, he would instantly be given the opportunity to provide for his family, or if he went to Europe.
2. Stress Levels
Balancing homework, practices and workouts, and going to classes is an incredibly stressful activity, a workload that can really affect not only a young player's ability to successfully balance all the different aspects of his life, but his mental health as well.
As Richard Sherman, NFL cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers, once infamously said:
"You've got a test the next day, you're dead tired from practice and you still have to study just as hard as everybody else every day and get all the same work done."
This statement from Sherman really portrayed the struggle that student-athletes go through, attempting to juggle school and sports, and even worse, how coaches and teachers all expect the same performance out of these guys as they would a regular athlete or a regular student.
It's unreasonable, to say the least.
There are costs and benefits alike to the rule that forces young basketball players to attend college before joining the league.
If you ask most players, they don't mind the rule, just the expectations.
If you ask most league executives in both the NCAA and NBA, the rule is absolutely necessary, and is entirely beneficial to the players.
Regardless of opinion, don't expect this rule to change for a long, long, time.