Why should elite basketball players have to go to college?

Illustration by Steck Von

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Last week, the matchup between rivals Duke and North Carolina brought the sight of Blue Devils star Zion Williamson’s shoe breaking. The implosion of his Nike kicks forced Williamson to leave the game after only 33 seconds of play.

Williamson, a freshman, came out of high school with viral dunk compilation videos, garnering national attention at an early age. He has continued the crazy dunks at Duke and is a staple on ESPN’s SportsCenter highlights. The Blue Devils forward has also been tabbed as the favorite to go No. 1 in the upcoming NBA draft.

On the first possession of the game, Williamson went after a loose ball and slipped on a slick spot on the floor. As he slipped, Williamson’s Nike PG 2.5 burst at the seams of the upper part of the shoe as well as the sole. He left the game with a knee sprain, but if the injury were any more serious, it could have hurt his future NBA career.

This injury sparked a debate on Twitter and other social media platforms over whether high school basketball players should be allowed to go straight to the NBA, bypassing college.

Elite high school basketball players should be able to enter the NBA draft without attending college. This would eliminate the chance of a potential top-draft pick losing millions from an injury at the college level. Not only does it solve that issue, but it also eliminates the one-and-done culture at major college basketball institutions, because freshmen stay for less than a full academic year and enter the draft after the NCAA tournament.

NBA stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant did not attend college — they were drafted right out of high school. But this practice ended in 2005. In a collective bargaining agreement, the NBA changed the minimum age to enter the draft from 18 to 19 and required that players have graduated high school at least a year ago.

The collective bargaining agreement states, “The minimum age requirement has been increased from 18 to 19 years of age. United States players must be at least one year removed from high school AND 19 years of age (by the end of that calendar year) before entering the draft. International players must turn 19 during the calendar year of that draft.”

The most recent top-draft pick out of high school was Dwight Howard in 2004, the first overall pick by the Orlando Magic. Howard has accumulated almost every accolade a player can receive in high school basketball and the NBA.

As the rule stands, elite basketball players risk their future NBA careers when they’re forced to play one year of college basketball.

Michael Porter Jr. played for Missouri last year and injured his back in the team’s season opener. He missed the entire season, only playing off the bench in two postseason games. Porter was potentially going to be the first overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, but teams didn’t feel comfortable taking him because of his injury. The Denver Nuggets drafted him 14th overall, and he has not played in an NBA game this season because of the back injury he sustained more than a year ago.

Deandre Ayton was drafted first overall by the Phoenix Suns and is guaranteed to receive more than $17 million over his four-year contract. Porter is guaranteed about $6 million in his four-year deal. He lost more than $11 million by falling to 14th in the draft.  

The NBA rule was designed to force players to go to college and receive an education before entering the draft. This requirement is pointless — by and large, it doesn’t achieve its goal, because many star college basketball players only attend college for one year before entering the NBA.

In the 2016 NBA draft, five of the first eight selected were one-and-done players, including Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons.

Some players still manage to avoid going to college by playing overseas for a year to fulfill the requirements. Others have taken the path of playing in the NBA’s G League for a year before signing with a team.

Elite high school basketball players risk injury and millions of dollars if they get hurt playing college basketball. They should be able to capitalize on their playing abilities right out of high school, just like James and Bryant did after their high school careers ended.

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