The Unaccompanied Minors of the NBA

Is there anything bad about attending four years of college and obtaining your degree? Absolutely not.  That is precisely the “thing” that college basketball players who play a full four years can say that they have over those who either left early or did not attend at all.

Basketball is and will always be, at its purest form, just a game.  There are no promises of glory whatsoever for any hopeful professional in the sport.  With the twist of a knee or shattering of an ankle, one’s NBA career could be over before it even sees the light of day.  An undergraduate degree however, especially one obtained for free through an athletic scholarship, is something that no one can ever take away from a player. There is also no question about the maturity and preparedness that a long college career instills within an NBA hopeful.

Dwyane Wade:
If you want to talk about being prepared to play in the Association, look no further than D-Wade. As a third year player, he delivered what is arguably the greatest single performance in NBA Finals history, obliterating the Dallas Mavericks after an 0-2 start. In that historic series, Flash averaged 34.7 points per game and snagged 7.8 boards per contest.  You can say what you want, but that championship was basically all Dwyane Wade.  Michael Jordan did not win his first title until age 27 and Kobe Bryant won his “first” ring (without Shaq) at age 31.  Wade did it in his third season as pro.

Dwyane himself will be the first to tell anyone what impact the experience of growing and maturing as a person during his four years at Marquette had on his NBA career. He came into the league with the mentality of a team leader right off the bat and his game was already polished and strong enough to dominate his competition.

Brandon Roy:
Although not as accomplished as Wade, Brandon Roy is another superstar that comes to mind when thinking of college stars who have made a seamless transition into the NBA.  I remember reading a story about how as a rookie, Brandon was the only one bold enough to call out then Trail Blazer, Zach Randolph, for pointing fingers at everyone else but himself. That was the moment B-Roy instantly earned the respect of his teammates and they bought into him as a leader figure.  Garnering Rookie of the Year Honors surely did not hurt his cause either.

It’s really tough to legitimately disseminate any negatives with regards to playing a full career at the NCAA level. Even this year, we’ve seen rookies such as Darren Collison of UCLA and Taj Gibson of USC who both ended up as starters, albeit by default.  But to their credit, they did nothing to forfeit that privilege and played hard and effectively every single minute they were on the floor.  By experiencing the life of a student athlete and graduating with a degree in their hand really does appear to have nothing but a positive effect while transitioning into the life of a professional.

I do realize that we’re arguing from a small sample here, but unfortunately, I can’t think of any big-time star that played even up to three years of college basketball as Kareem Abdul Jabaar recommends. Most U.S. players who shine in the spotlight play two years of NCAA ball at most. The truth of the matter is that in the game of basketball, if a player is an outstanding talent that is clearly ahead of the pack, they are far more eager to go play in the NBA than finish out school and obtain their degree.  Honestly, can you blame them? Many of us would do close to anything to have that luxury in life of playing basketball and earning millions of dollars to do so.

If you’re more confused than ever, do not be weary, I’m just as lost as you. Nonetheless, we must choose because there is no such thing as living in the middle ground.

NEXT: And the winner is…
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