Chasing The NBA Dream Sometimes A Nightmare

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the tough night the Southeastern Conference had in last week's NBA Draft.

It must have been gut-wrenching for former Alabama forward Kennedy Winston. He and his family went to a Mobile restaurant for a celebration. They had every reason to believe he would be drafted late in the first round, early in the second at the latest.

But the two-round NBA draft came and went without Winston's name being called. Like five other Southeastern Conference players who left school early, Winston's dream turned into a nightmare.

Winston signed as a free agent with the Memphis Grizzlies. Maybe he will do what Marquis Daniels did and make it big anyway, but he'll be the exception if he does.

Draft day was a bad day for the SEC as a whole. Only three SEC players were among the 60 chosen. That's one less than national champion North Carolina had chosen in the first round.

There was a time when the SEC could legitimately claim its basketball was as good or better than any other conference in the country. Maybe this is just a cycle and that time will come again. The truth is, no conference knows anymore what it will be like from one season to the next. The influx of high school seniors, foreign players and underclassmen into the NBA draft has changed everything.

But, really, the issue isn't who has the best conference in the country. The issue is what is happening to young men who, often with the help of unscrupulous agents, decide to leave school early and pursue the riches of the NBA. An atmosphere has been created that almost labels a player who hangs around through his senior season an underachiever because he hasn't bolted for the NBA.

More players every year proclaim themselves eligible for the draft, only to be ignored. They are left with no college career and little chance of making an NBA roster. Some can go overseas, far away from family and friends, and make a living. Others toil in the NBDL, a minor league system that doesn't exactly send a steady stream of players into the NBA.

The men who run the NBA and the players association could do something about it if they chose, but they obviously don't want to. They made a laughable attempt to deceive by passing an age limit of 19 years old. Does anybody really think that is going to change anything?

The best model might be that developed between the NCAA and major league baseball and the NFL. A baseball prospect can sign out of high school, and many do. They go into the only really legitimate minor league system in professional sports. But if a player signs with a four-year college, he can't be drafted until his class finishes its third year. In football, a player also must wait until his class has finished its third year.

There is little doubt that NCAA baseball loses some star power that way. Some players might go to college if they knew they could leave after a year or two. Some go to junior college, where they can be drafted after their first or second year.

There is no reason the same rule couldn't be into place in basketball, though it wouldn't have helped Winston or most of the SEC players who left school. They had, in fact, played through their third seasons.

I find the argument that an athlete must be allowed to make a living laughable. I'm sure there are plenty of juniors at Auburn or any other school who have gained enough knowledge to be successful in their chosen fields before they earn their degrees. But no one questions companies that make a college degree a prerequisite for employment.

I feel badly for Kennedy Winston. I feel badly for former Kentucky center Randolph Morris, who left after one so-so year and, not surprisingly, went undrafted. I feel badly for Florida's Anthony Robertson and Matt Walsh, who left early and were disappointed, and all the rest.

All of them apparently got some bad advice from somewhere.

The NBA needs to do something about a bad situation. It's not bad because it creates difficulty for college athletics programs. That really isn't the issue at all. It's bad because it creates difficulty, sometimes disaster, for young men who give up so much to chase a dream that all too frequently becomes a nightmare.

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