I was floored the other day to learn that five University of Kentucky players had been drafted in the first round of the NBA’s much ballyhooed draft.
Naturally, my first concern was for Ashley Judd, who I assumed was distraught about her beloved Wildcats losing four freshman to the siren call of the National Basketball Association. But then I got past that as I read that Kentucky has four of the top two dozen scholastic standouts in the country penciled in for Lexington in the fall.
But it gets back to the initial amazement that a team that didn’t win the NCAA title could have so many players taken so early in a single draft year. Kind of makes you wonder if these are truly student-athletes or more precisely pieces in a grand bit of smoke and mirrors that big-time college athletics foists on an admittedly eager American public every year.
I should make it clear that I am not talking specifically about the five Kentucky guys, but rather addressing a larger question. And that question is: Given all the hysterical hypocrisy that engulfs college sports at that level, is it defensible that a university – any university – would recruit players every year based on their suitability for the National Basketball Association rather than the theoretically more lofty aspiration of providing an undergraduate education?
It seems to me that big-time college basketball coaches have to make strategic decisions about whether to recruit the best athlete – which may often mean NBA-worthy and maybe more likely to depart the ivy-covered campus prematurely and sans degree – or to try to scour the vast high school wilderness to find the best talent that might also be inclined to stick with the program for three, or, dare we say it, four years.
While the strategic implications are significant, they are certainly not all-encompassing, and obviously the big-name coaches dabble in both arenas, so to speak. But I sure do like looking at the various programs at the upper-rung of the NCAA circus and try to determine if the coach looks for the big dogs with the NBA dreams or perhaps a spectacular high school star who may have just enough talent – and physical stature – to perform at the highest level in college but not at the professional level.
I guess it’s just differences in philosophies, but it sure would be fun to be privy to some of the secret deliberations to know if the coaches really look at it in those terms.
I’ll still be following Kentucky occasionally, largely because of my, uh, regard for the aforementioned Ms. Judd. I stopped actually rooting for them when Pat Riley finished up a few decades ago.