The extra long sheets, the secured trunk, the classic shower caddy with shower shoes—by the time the family piles into the car for the trip to campus, the student has everything he or she could possibly need to get through the next phase of life.
If your student is Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, though, you just give him a good hug and say, “Mama needs a new pair of shoes! Now go get ‘em!”
Going into last year's college basketball season, there was a glut of hype surrounding Oden and Durant. They were both highly sought-after high school players who eventually decided on the University of Texas (Durant) and The Ohio State University (Oden).
Both Oden and Durant were expected to be phenomenal college players, and both delivered on their potential.
And then, both declared for the NBA Draft.
Their decisions, of course, were based on the multimillion-dollar contracts awaiting them as the top overall picks. But many observers have been left wondering why the two bothered to go to college in the first place.
Why waste the scholarship that could have gone to somebody else? Why waste time learning a system that won’t benefit you in the NBA?
The answer to these questions is simple: because Oden and Durant didn't have a choice.
Under the new NBA rules, teenage phenoms are no longer eligible to turn pro straight out of high school. Many people have done their own version of the happy dance to celebrate David Stern's "commitment" to education—but those people, unfortunately, are missing the point.
Albert Einstein, genius that he was, captured the essence of the dilemma facing today's young basketball stars.
"You have to learn the rules of the game," Einstein once said. "And then you have to play better than anyone else."
Every year, the NCAA adds new regulations to the encyclopedia of guidelines college athletes are expected to follow. The lords of the realm set rules ranging from where an athlete can appear in the media to who can baby-sit his kid brother and who can give his family a ride to a game.
However, the rules that need fixing don’t have anything to do with boosters or favors. Instead, they focus on an athlete's education.
Funny how the NCAA overlooked the school thing.
If you're a college athlete, you're required to maintain a 2.0 GPA in order to compete. As a freshman starter, you can party all night and skip class every day—and still maintain your eligibility.
Under the current rules, a freshmen hoopster who flunks all his classes will be on academic probation—and still playing—when March Madness rolls around. By the end of the season, he'll have fulfilled his year-in-college requirement and will officially be able to enter the NBA Draft...without having ever cracked a single book.
Bobby Knight, for one, is disgusted by the loophole.
"Now you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class," the coaching legend said. "He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester...he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.”
Which begs the question: If academics don't matter, why doesn’t the NBA just take the kids straight out of high school? Exactly who's benefiting from the one-year rule?
Granted, NBA Commissioner David Stern has been trying to change the league's image. However, the one-year rule hasn't exactly eliminated the riffraff—not least of all because it's usually older players who find themselves in sticky situations.
The NFL, for its part, won't allow a player to enter the draft until he's two years removed from high school. That rule has a physical basis, but it also requires athletes to maintain that 2.0 GPA—which in turn means college football players have to take school at least a little seriously to be sure they can play during their sophomore seasons.
If Stern really wants to change the NBA's image, he'd do well to follow the NFL's lead and cultivate better-educated players.
And let's not forget about the interests of the athletes themselves.
In 2006, the NCAA had a total of 16,571 men’s basketball players. Only 44 of those young men were drafted into the NBA.
As for the rest—according to the NCAA, only 37 percent of African-American basketball players graduate.
Where do they go from college basketball?
As it stands, the NCAA and the NBA may well be hindering the growth of young players, and creating conditions ripe for the development of the “Spoiled Athlete.”
The solution, for the players and the league, is an obvious one: Make these athletes go to class—and don’t make it so easy for them to enter the draft.
Tougher rules will help these young men prepare themselves for the demanding rigors of adult life, in the NBA and elsewhere. College is where you hone your skills and sharpen your discipline, whether your goal is to be an NBA star, a doctor, or an investment analyst.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of Oden and Durant. Though they went one-two in the draft, critics have their doubts about their ability to hang with the big boys.
When the season starts in October, these two phenoms will have finally made good on their childhood dreams—and will finally get a chance to face the fiercest basketball competition in the world.
No longer will they be the oversized kids on the court. In the NBA, they'll have to prove just how good they really are.
And so it is that I say this to Greg and Kevin:
“Good luck fellas. Oh—and about those shoes. I wear a 7 1/2.”
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