The 10 Commandments for Incoming College Basketball Freshmen
The beginning of college is both an exciting and nerve-wracking time, whether you are a star basketball recruit or the chemistry department’s newest test tube expert.
That being said, there are rules to follow. And chances are if you are on the basketball court in front of tens of thousands of people every game, your ability to follow (or not follow) those rules will be magnified a bit more than if you are the chemistry student.
With that in mind, read on to see the 10 commandments incoming college hoops freshmen should follow.
*This post was inspired by Lafe Peavler’s college football version.
Thou Shalt Crack Open a Book or Two
If you think academics don’t matter when it comes to big-time college basketball, ask Connecticut how its 2013 postseason went.
The Huskies were declared ineligible for the NCAA tournament before they played their first game last year because of their lackluster Academic Progress Rate scores. To its credit, Connecticut got its APR scores up to the necessary threshold to play in the 2014 tournament, but last season still stung.
Now so more than ever college basketball players need to crack open a book or two, otherwise poor APR scores will punish future players, the coaches and the fans. Don’t be the freshman who damages the program from the classroom.
Thou Shalt Not Get Too Comfortable in Your Conference
By the time you finish reading this slide, four more teams will have switched conferences.
Basically the lesson here is not to get too comfortable playing in whichever conference you are in as a freshman. Even basketball powerhouses like Syracuse and Louisville will see their surroundings change this year, so no program is safe.
If you are an incoming freshman with an appreciation for the history of the game and certain rivalries (think Syracuse versus Georgetown or even Maryland versus Duke), it is probably best not to become too attached.
Thou Shalt Respect Tradition
A big part of what makes college sports in general different (and better) than professional sports is the pageantry and tradition surrounding each game.
Sure, a showdown with North Carolina inside Cameron Indoor Stadium will have a different atmosphere than a nonconference snooze fest against Elon, but it is still a chance to play in front of the Cameron Crazies and follow in the footsteps of so many other legendary players.
And you don’t have to be at primetime schools like Duke to enjoy traditions. If you go to Taylor University, soak in the “silent night” game, or if you go to John Brown University, revel in the annual toilet paper toss. These are the things that make college basketball special.
They may seem trivial now, but you will undoubtedly miss them when college is firmly in the rearview mirror.
Thou Shalt Avoid the Bookies
We like to think of sports as an escape from reality, where for a couple of hours any worries are put on the backburner as we revel in the thrill of competition. However, if the results were already preordained it would take much of the thrill out of the experience.
Point-shaving scandals don’t dominate the headlines as much as performance-enhancing drugs, recruiting violations or which brand of gum Tim Tebow is chewing today, but they have permeated college basketball’s history. Auburn is the most recent school to have players linked to these activities.
The most famous instance was the 1951 point-shaving scandal with the City College of New York. CCNY was a national power but got caught up in an organized crime mess that engrossed seven different schools and permanently damaged the school’s basketball program going forward.
While something this drastic isn’t likely to happen in the near future, freshmen will be best off to avoid bookies altogether.
Thou Shalt Focus on the Here and Now
The group of freshmen that donned Kentucky’s jersey last year undoubtedly looked ahead to the NBA a bit last season. After all, the freshmen-dominated Wildcats ran wild through the NCAA tournament the season before, and many of those players went on to the professional ranks immediately.
It was only reasonable for the newest batch of freshmen to expect the same results, but they instead embarrassed the school, themselves and the fanbase with a season that ended with a loss in the first round of the NIT. The cherry on top was the fact that it was to Robert Morris.
If you are talented enough, the NBA will be waiting for you at the end of March. Listen to what your coach has to say today and focus on the here and now of the college season. Otherwise you may be in school longer than you originally anticipated.
Thou Shalt Honor the Banners
College basketball arenas are decked out in banners celebrating the storied history of each respective program, but the quickest way to make sure there are no banners celebrating your time on campus is to commit an NCAA violation.
Breaking the rules can alienate the fanbase, put an asterisk next to your coach’s name (whether John Calipari was officially declared part of the violations at Memphis and UMass or not, you better believe rival fans see him as a cheater) and embarrass the university as a whole.
It may sounds simple, but don’t cheat (to the best of your ability—everybody knows the NCAA rulebook is ridiculous) when you are a college basketball player.
Thou Shalt Think Before You Tweet
There is a famous proverb that basically says it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Thanks to the advances of social media, it is now easier than ever to remove all doubt, especially if you are a college basketball star and have thousands of people following your 140-character updates.
Take Marshall Henderson for example. The Ole Miss star engaged in a Twitter beef with Kentucky player Ryan Harrow last season after Harrow criticized him for talking too much and reminded him of the Wildcats’ regular-season win over the Rebels. Henderson responded with an expected NIT jab.
But the best part of the whole thing was that the account Henderson was arguing with wasn’t even Harrow’s actual Twitter account. Whoops.
Instances like this don’t exactly do much for removing the dumb jock stereotypes surrounding college athletes.
Thou Shalt Play in a Power Conference If You Want a Ring
Not everybody is blessed with the opportunity to choose between power conference schools, but if you have that chance and want to win a national championship you should probably take it.
A team that played in a power conference last season has won the past 23 national titles and 46 of the last 47. Only UNLV in the 1989-90 season captured the crown during that stretch from outside a traditional power league.
That being said, perhaps you think you can be the next great player to bring a title home to a perennial underdog. After all, teams such as Butler, Wichita State and VCU came awfully close in recent years, so it certainly can be done.
But the numbers suggest otherwise.
Thou Shalt Not Make Unwise Declarations
Unlike in the NFL draft—where there are seven rounds—or the MLB draft—where there are approximately 578 rounds—there are only two rounds in the NBA draft.
Seemingly every season there are underclassmen who declare for the draft based on unwise advice from too many people surrounding them only to not be selected come draft day. When that happens, it immediately leaves you in basketball purgatory, especially if you have already hired an agent.
The best thing to do is surround yourself with a select handful of advisers (think parents, close friends or family and trusted coaches) and make the decision that you think is best. Whether that is to stay in school or try your hand at the NBA, just make sure the decision is made with the right people.
Thou Shalt Embrace the Spotlight
Just because there are rules to follow and straight and narrow paths to maintain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace your celebrity a little bit as a college basketball player.
Take Michigan point guard Spike Albrecht. Following a surprising performance in the national title game against Louisville, the Wolverine backup tweeted at supermodel and noted Michigan supporter Kate Upton in hopes of seeing her again. Sure, it didn’t work, but you can’t knock the guy for trying.
While there are other ways to spend your 15 minutes of fame than taking your shot with one of the most famous models in the world, most college basketball players won’t get the privilege of playing under the NBA lights. Enjoy the time while it lasts.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.