Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

How Paying Players out of High School Changes the One-And-Done Culture

Back in 2005, the NBA upped its age requirement from 18 to 19. The hope was this would increase player development and decrease the number of promising young talents who burn out by trying to go right to the NBA. Gone were the days of “preps to pros” stars like LeBron James and Dwight Howard.  

Following this change, a new culture emerged in NCAA men’s basketball of “one and done” players. These are student athletes who play one year of college basketball to reach the mandatory age before leaving school for the draft. This group is highlighted by NBA superstars like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.

However, the NBA is now implementing yet another change. While the age requirement remains 19, top high school players will have the option of earning a $125,000 salary in the G-League, the NBA’s developmental league, for one year before entering the draft.  

The goal of this rule change is to provide players the opportunity to be compensated for their play, rather than risk serious injury while getting paid nothing at the college level. In light of the recent Zion Williamson injury scare, the new path may become more appealing.

Williamson, a current Duke freshman and the consensus number one prospect for the upcoming NBA draft, sprained his knee in the opening minute of Duke’s February showdown against rival UNC. Known for his insane athleticism and high flying acrobatics, Zion, along with the other talented Duke freshman, have drawn crowds consisting of A-list celebrities—from Ken Griffey Jr. to former President of the United States, Barack Obama.

And while ticket prices soar as viewers line up to get a look at the sport’s most hyped high schooler since probably LeBron James himself, players like Williamson or his stud freshman teammate R.J. Barrett risk career-ending injury game-in and game-out without seeing a dollar of the vast revenue they bring in.  

Luckily, Williamson’s injury appears to be minor. But as various players and analysts implore him to sit the remainder of the season, could anyone really blame him? He’s proved to everyone that his potential is unlimited, and his spot atop the draft rankings is solidified. While everyone loves a competitor, this is the man’s livelihood at stake. And to be quite honest, despite his standing as a ‘student-athlete,’ the kid didn’t come to Duke for its prestigious academics.

At the very least, this rule change gives the top recruits of next year something to think about. And while the plan doesn’t come without questions, such as who deems the players worthy of the ‘elite’ title that garners the $125,000 one-year offer, it’s a huge step in the right direction.  

So what does this rule change mean for a team who rarely produces NBA talent anyway? A lot. Boston College hasn’t had to worry about ‘one and done’ players because, quite frankly, they aren’t a good enough program to be on the radar of the very top high school recruits. The players who are simply using NCAA Basketball as a stopgap are instead choosing fellow ACC teams like Duke or UNC, or out-of-conference powerhouses like Kentucky.  

Moving forward, as many of the top recruits will enter in the G-League development year, BC will no longer be overpowered by freshman dominated teams. Rather, teams will have to turn to developing players for multiple years. As the ultra-talented top freshman will no longer be able to make team chemistry and game plans null and void due to sheer physical overpowerment, the emphasis will move to forming cohesive teams for years.

For the Eagles, a team that rarely has a player leave early for the NBA draft let alone after his freshman year, this means more of an even playing field. Players like Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, who develop over multiple years, could become the future of college basketball across the board.

Of course, the top recruits could still choose the NCAA route and play college basketball for a year. But the ones that truly dominate the landscape of the sport, who are guaranteed top picks in the draft before they even step foot on a college court, will find it very difficult to pass up this opportunity. The programs that feature these players will no longer be able to torture the Eagles with an endless supply of NBA-ready freshman. Because of this, we may be looking at the rule—or the first step in a series of rules that could change the one-and-done culture for good—that allows BC basketball to return to national relevance.  

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