Mac Engel

'Don't put restrictions on kids': Calipari's one-and-done stance is dead on

Kentucky head coach John Calipari speaks during the first half of a regional semifinal NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State, Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Atlanta.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari speaks during the first half of a regional semifinal NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State, Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Atlanta. AP Photo

Of all the coaches to benefit from one-and-done, John Calipari figures to lose the most if the NBA abolishes the rule.

And yet he wants just that.

"Whatever the rules," he said, "we're going to be fine."

Who thinks the University of Kentucky basketball is going to die any time soon, regardless of college basketball's parameters?

Coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats hosted a three-hour telethon at WKYT to fundraise for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The University of Kentucky basketball coach was in Fort Worth Friday to speak at TCU's basketball clinic. He sat down to talk about the (damaged) state of college basketball, with one question in mind: How to fix it?

"Kids should be able to go (to the NBA) out of high school. That’s not our deal. That’s between the NBA and the Player’s Association," Calipari said in a conversation that took place in the office of TCU basketball coach Jamie Dixon. "Don't put restrictions on kids."

College basketball is currently embroiled in a nasty FBI investigation that includes embarrassing tales of cash payments to kids from shoe company representatives associated with premier programs. The problem is exactly no one in college basketball is surprised by the examples leaking out from this investigation, because it's mostly business as usual.

The problem, of course, is money; the high school players want it, and they can't get it as NCAA student athletes. And they can't go straight to to the NBA.

No coach in the sport has thrived more with one-and-dones than Calpari, and even he thinks the rule stinks.

In 2007, the NBA and the NBA Player's Association agreed to a rule that said player had to be either 19 or one year removed from high school before being eligible for the draft.

The design was to get agents out of high school gyms. The agents are not only still in the gyms, they're everywhere associated with youth basketball, as well as representatives from shoe companies in search of their next foot model.

Calipari said he met with the NBA Player's Association one week ago, and implored that organization to create a "combine" for high school juniors. And he thinks agents should be more involved with high school kids.

"The players and the families need to know - here are the ones who should be thinking about the NBA, and here are the ones who should not," he said. "That's why you need a combine."

The only problem to that is there are so many agents who will tell a kid anything they want to hear in order to secure a potential client.

"If they want to go out of high school, go. If they want to go to college and then leave, let them leave when they want to leave," Calipari said. "Why would we force a kid to stay? 'Well - it's good for the game?' It's about these kids and their families. Because let me tell you, if we (abolish one-and-done), the kids that do come to college will stay for two to three years."

Calipari's concept is for the NBA to set up its G-League with contracts that include roughly $30,000-a-year salaries, and college education funds. Major League Baseball has similar deals for its minor league players.

His point is to open it up and take the restrictions away.

"In terms of the game of basketball, whatever you think will happen, this game will go on," he said. "There are unintended consequences here for these kids and their families. Don't encourage eighth, ninth and 10th graders to forgo education just to go to the G League. If you did, how many do you think would do just that?"

My response was, "Oh my God."

"Right - you just said it - 'Oh my God.' It would be a lot," he said. "What do we do with these kids now? What do we do if they are not academically ready at all, because they didn't plan on it. Who wants to take care of those thousands of kids whose family, many times, are dealing with generational poverty and their chance was maybe to get him an education?

"Now, how many kids do you think who went thinking, 'I'm here one, or two, and done and stayed all four years? It's been proven by the graduation rates it's a ton. What's wrong with that? I don't care what they do, but let's not force them to go to the G League.

"If they choose to do that, that's fine, but why don't we make sure if they don't make it in, they at least have a chance at a guaranteed education."

One-and-done was well intended, and while it won't fix everything, it's time for it to go.

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