2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

NBA: The one-and-done debate, etc.

Published: April 4, 2014, 1:16 pm, by Paul Klee

The one-and-done debate ignites strong opinions.

Here’s mine.

Here’s David Ramsey’s.

One reason I enjoy writing columns for The Gazette is working alongside Mr. Ramsey. We rarely agree, and I dig that, because we look at sports from different angles. We might be covering the same Broncos game, but we almost always see it differently. With two columnists, that seems to be a good thing.

So I appreciate what Mr. Ramsey wrote today, and it made me think. It didn’t make me rethink my opinion on one-and-done prospects and the NBA, however.

There’s no easy solution to this debate. That point was driven home when I spent an afternoon with Lester Conner, a longtime NBA man who is now on Brian Shaw’s staff with the Nuggets. Lester knows more about the pros and cons of one-and-dones than anyone in the media; he’s one of the NBA assistant coaches in charge of working out the younger players. Nuggets forward Quincy Miller is an example.

“You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Conner said. “You’re caught between a guy trying to make a living and take care of his family. But a lot of times those guys are going down to the D-League, to learn how to play.”

The youth and inexperience of these teenagers forces the Nuggets, for example, to start with the basics. It was eye-opening to see Conner’s pre-practice workout plan. These are the basics of the basics, the fundamentals of the game: Dribbling, passing, shooting.

“(The late, great) Dick Harter, who I worked under, told me something that has always stuck with me,” Conner said. “He said, ‘Never assume that they know, just because they’re at the highest level.’ We take that approach; they may not know.”

In the one-and-done debate, there’s one argument I won’t buy: the notion college programs aren’t doing their job if a player leaps to the NBA before he earns a degree. That’s cute to think about. It might even give us a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. 

But let’s get real. When programs are rehiring Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Pearl, the Camelot view of college sports as a learning ground — and not big business — flies out the window.

The vast majority of college players, at least at the high-major level, choose a university based on its basketball coach, first, and its basketball program, second. Academics might be third, maybe, if it doesn’t get edged out by the quality of the coeds, party scene, proximity to home, or an AAU coach’s preference.  

But the players are there to hoop. That’s just the truth. 

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette