The NBA age-limit debate is one that has raged ever since high school player's were forbade from entering the league directly out of high school.
Gone are the days when athletes such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James could hop gracefully from senior prom to the draft podium. While conventional wisdom on the topic says that basketball's most talented youngsters should be able to pursue their lifelong dreams at either the ages of 19 or 20, after at least a year of college seasoning, neither of these solutions is best for the well being of the athletes, or the game.
The best way to help the development of the games young stars is to nurture them in the National Basketball Developmental League.
Yes, I know, high school stars are already allowed to enter the NBDL draft directly out of high school, but it hasn't caught on as a path for young prospects to take on their way to NBA glory.
Currently, there are 16 teams in the National Basketball Developmental League. Nine teams are affiliated with one NBA franchise, while the remaining seven are affiliated with three different professional organizations.
Since it's inception in 2001, the league has expanded from its original eight teams, and has grown both geographically as well as in popularity. While the NBA's version of the farm system isn't as successful as the Major League Baseball's, it's steadily heading in the right direction.
At the end of the 2010-2011 season, an impressive 23% of NBA players had spent time in the NBA D-League. For a talented high school prospect who's not allowed to enter the NBA Draft, the NBDL is a perfect career path, and for several reasons.
First and foremost, instead of being thrown into instant celebrity status while traveling the country surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the NBA lifestyle, the D-League will serve as motivation. Player pay is very minimal, and it will guarantee that the serious "professionals" will work the hardest on their game in order to get drafted in the following year's NBA draft.
So many high school stars never panned out because they couldn't handle the lifestyle of fame and money that comes with an initial pro contract. By keeping them in the developmental league, they will continue to work hard on their craft, fueled by getting to the NBA and making much more money.
They also will be surrounded by more focused, mature players who are all focused on achieving their professional basketball dreams as well.
Another reason the NBDL route makes sense is because it helps prepare young prospects with their 50+ game season. By going to college, they won't be playing nearly as many games that are needed to help prepare them for the rigors of an NBA traveling schedule.
Most importantly, the coaching staffs of each National Basketball Developmental League team are trained to help their players reach their ultimate destination, while playing a team game.
Instead of heading to college for a year and doing a disservice to their school and its program by using it as a pit stop on their way to the league, they can be schooled by professional coaches and players who have already been to the NBA at one time or another, and know what it takes to get there.
Sure, college is the tried and tested path for top recruits looking to get to the NBA as quickly as possible. But it's not the best option for everyone involved. The college game and its programs aren't benefiting by constantly having to sustain the losses of "one-and-done" prospects.
Likewise, the athletes involved shouldn't have to just bide their time for a year on a college campus before they can cash in on their millions.
An NBDL-route makes the most sense. Young athletes get on-the-job training for a lengthy, NBA-like season, while staying motivated to reach their dreams by sacrificing blood, sweat and tears to make their dreams a reality.
High school athletes in today's game are so incredibly pampered, it's no wonder we encounter so many draft pick "busts." The best and brightest stars should have to sacrifice in order to achieve what they want.
Handing kids millions of dollars before they ever play a game against grown men isn't the solution to the problem, regardless if they are 18, 19, or 20 years old.
Maybe the kids will struggle at first in the rough and tumble NBDL, but it will make the hard work that much sweeter when they persevere through it and reach their destiny as an NBA draft selection.
Like the old adage says, "The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary."