NASHVILLE, Tenn. — John Calipari is always quick to remind that one-and-done is “not my rule,” rather the NBA’s. It is significant, then, that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is now openly in favor of changing the rule that has made possible 21 players in eight years leaving Kentucky after just one season.
“I’m rethinking our position,” Silver said in May, before declaring this week that one-and-done is “clearly not working for the college game.”
The most popular alternative seems to be allowing players to once again go straight from high school to the NBA or, if they go to college, wait two years to enter the draft. SEC coaches were torn on that idea Wednesday at the league’s basketball media day, but Calipari was clear.
“I’m going to make everybody mad, so listen closely,” he said, grinning. “I would be whistling and skipping in every practice. I’d have teams for two years. Are you kidding me? The unintended consequence of doing some of this: You’re going to help Kentucky. That will change it. So that ain’t happening. I’m telling you, let’s do what’s right for these kids.”
Both Calipari and his longtime friend, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, agree that there are a handful of players each year who are good enough and should be allowed to go straight from high school to the NBA — but both worry about what happens to the busts.
Barnes hoped aloud that there will be improved NBA feedback so that players don’t make a mistake they’ll regret for a lifetime. Calipari noted that such a system would put NBA scouts back in high school gyms recruiting juniors, which feels wrong, and send a message to even younger players that they can blow off schoolwork because they believe (often incorrectly) that they’re future pros.
“There’s going to be unintended consequences if we don’t think of these kids,” Calipari said. “The D League is unbelievable, because I have five or six kids in it right now fighting to get back in the NBA. That’s what it should be for. To have a kid out of high school, on his own, getting up on his own when mom was waking him up every single day … I don’t know if they’re built for that. I know we are.”
Calipari said his recruiting pitch would become: Don’t risk toiling in the NBA’s developmental league, which is now called the G (as in Gatorade) League, as a clueless teenager. Instead, go to NBA Prep School, aka Kentucky, and spend two years preparing for the next level while being Big Man on Campus and competing for championships.
But his preference is to keep the current system — with a few tweaks. One of his suggestions: identify the 10-20 players each year with legitimate NBA potential and allow them to take out a loan from the NBA to cover their families’ travel to college games.
To the critics who would declare that unfair, saying it creates an uneven playing field?
“Stop it,” Calipari said. “We don’t use that word any more. There is no such thing as a level playing field. We went to the Power 5 (conferences). We can do stuff if it’s all based on what’s right for these kids. If you send high school kids to the D League, how many will make the NBA? It’s probably 2 or 3 percent. What do we do with the ones that don’t make it? Tell me. Let’s not throw all this out. Let’s figure out a way to tweak this.”
Mississippi State coach Ben Howland, who coached several pros of his own at UCLA, including NBA all-stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, disagrees with Calipari.
“I think it’s likely [one-and-done] will be done,” he said. “I’d be shocked if it’s not changed here in the near future. What I would love to see and I think it’s the right thing to do: Let them go out of high school, but if you’re going to come to college, you’ve got to stay two years. That’s the right thing for the game and the right thing for the culture of basketball.
“I think kids should be able to go right out of high school, but then if they don’t, OK, let’s don’t make a mockery of going to college for one year.”
But what of all the delusional young players who believe they’re ready to make the NBA jump and fall flat?
“I think the pendulum, when they do make this rule, will sing to a bunch of guys coming out that shouldn’t come out,” Howland admits, but “then it’ll swing back.”
Barnes, who coached an eventual NBA MVP at Texas, doesn’t think anything about that guy’s path was a mockery.
“People ask me that question all the time: ‘Don’t you think guys should stay in school two years?’ And I say, ‘Well, I tell ya, I coached a young man by the name of Kevin Durant that, after his first year in college, he left and he made $27 million.’ I said, ‘I know for a fact I would tell my son to take the same deal — and I don’t know of any parent that wouldn’t do that,’ ” Barnes said.
That’s an argument Calipari makes annually as the face of the one-and-done era. He is open to change and insists that he, the game’s most charismatic coach, and Kentucky, one of its all-time powerhouses, will thrive under any set of rules. His battle cry is this:
“Going forward, are we going to make this better for these kids?” Calipari said. “If the NBA is worried about the NBA, that’s it, and the NCAA is worried about the NCAA, that’s it, and each university is only worried about themselves and their own thing, we’re probably not going to get it right.
“But [we can] if we all sit back and say, ‘How do we make this right for these kids?’ ”