By Kevin Sweeney
Scroll through the Twitter feeds of any national college basketball media source, and you’ll see tweet after tweet of players declaring for the NBA Draft. Most of those will come with the caveat that the player won’t sign with an agent.
As of 3pm today, there were 140 players who had entered the draft, with 80 not having hired an agent (those numbers are per NBADraft.net). Some of the names on that list, like Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, and DeAndre Ayton, are recognizable to even the most common of college basketball fan: collegiate superstars at big-time programs who were long expected to be NBA lottery picks. Others, however, are much less well-known.
How much Matt Morgan tape did you watch this season? What about Fred Sims or Takal Molson? Did you scout Tramaine Isabell or Elijah Minnie?
These are 5 excellent college basketball players. Isabell (Drexel), and Morgan (Cornell) all averaged more than 20 points per game for their respective teams, while Molson won Freshman of the Year in the MAAC and Minnie was 3rd-team all-conference in the MAC this season. They will all make money playing professional basketball, and if they are lucky, a lot of it.
Their chances of being drafted by an NBA team this year? About the same as my odds of winning the lottery.
The rule change in 2016 to allow players to work out with NBA teams and get better feedback about their draft prospects was almost universally well-regarded. Players get more flexibility and feedback during a process that is cloudy at best. Colleges get to keep players who may have otherwise made ill-advised decisions. And NBA teams get to evaluate more players for both the current draft but potentially for future ones as well.
Yet in just 3 draft classes, things have gotten out of hand. The punchline “you might as well tweet out the list of players that AREN’T declaring for the draft” gets thrown around a lot.
To be clear, I’m not advocating revoking the rule. This freedom is without a doubt a good thing and an improvement from the previous system.
What I’m advocating for is an even more wide-open system: one in which every player who is draft-eligible may be contacted by college and professional scouts, coaches, and front office personnel? Remember John Calipari’s publicity stunt in the first year of the current system of having every single player (including walk-ons) enter the draft without an agent? Well, just like that.
Take our earlier example. Molson is just a freshman and far from a professional basketball player at this point. I’d bet anything he’s on a collegiate roster next season, whether that be at Canisius or at a different school. With the current rules in place, Molson is using one of his two opportunities to “test the waters” before being forced to leave school on his 3rd time declaring for the draft. Why not simply allow him to reach out to NBA teams and other pro clubs (let’s be honest, the odds of a 6-5 shooting guard from the MAAC making an NBA roster are slim to non) and hear what he needs to work on each year. If teams want to work him out, go ahead and work out. If teams want to guarantee they will draft him or sign him if he goes pro, let them do that. Give the players all the freedom in the world, without all the media attention that really tells us nothing.
The benefit of the current system is that it gets players’ names out there via the national media. The thought process is that if nothing else, just being on the list might get a few extra NBA eyes. While this line of thinking is valid, the vast majority of college coaches (even at low-major schools) have contacts in the NBA world, and would have no issue helping players connect with teams and get their names out there. AAU and high school coaches also may have useful contacts at their disposal. Besides, NBA scouts are a presence at high school and AAU events and do extensive college scouting, having info on all the players that are even conceivably draft material. Of course, the NCAA could also just allow players to have agents while still in college, but we all know that’s unlikely.
Let’s just simplify the process. Let every player get contacted by pro teams. 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine, players would have to either sign with an agent or officially return to school.
If the NCAA is dead set against letting any agent interaction into the college game, at least cut out the completely unnecessary middle step in the NBA Draft process.