EDITORIAL – This year the 2016 NCAA March Madness has once again lived up to its name; breaking fans’, analysts’ and even President Obama’s tournament brackets at every point. This Saturday will be the Final Four. This semifinals has two familiar rematches; No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Syracuse.
Among the four teams left, is a player that has been making noise since his arrival to the NCAA in 2012. That player is Oklahoma Sooner, Chavono “Buddy” Hield. Buddy is a senior shooting guard for the Sooners, who has led his squad with his amazing play, leadership and maturity. Buddy didn’t have to be here this year, he could of very well entered the NBA draft last year like many expected him to, but he decided to stay another year.
The 22-year-old, 6-foot-4, 212 pound guard has many accolades under his belt. He is the 2016 Sports News College Player of the Year, he was a First-team All-American this year and is a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year for 2015 and 2016. Yet, before the Sooners entered the Final Four this year, he was projected as a top 15-draft prospect for the NBA draft. Many, like ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley, are hinting that his amazing March Madness play is raising his draft value to a possible top five, but not No. 1.
Although Buddy is showing that he has improved his game profoundly from last year and is a standout for this year’s March Madness tournament, there are still other players that are attracting more attention for the upcoming NBA draft. An easy comparison is Ben Simmons from Louisiana State University, a team that is not even in the tournament. Simmons has already indicated that he will be entering the NBA draft after playing in the NCAA for one year. Recently, according to ESPN, Simmons was deemed ineligible for the coveted Wooden Award due to “academic-related” reasons. Which is not surprising, the NCAA has become an NBA or bust league. Players who have the talent to get into the pros really do not have an incentive to do well in college if it isn’t their end game.
So why is a player like Buddy, who in four years has grown from an erratic shooter into a refined leader, who is taking his team to the depths of the tournament once again, behind in the draft of players with less experience with comparable talent?
“One and done” players, players who complete one year of college and then enter the NBA draft, have not necessarily always given their NBA teams the push that they need to win games or even win a championship. The last few years of NBA championship teams have been comprised of All-Star players who were four-year college players.
Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, a four-year player who came to the league in 1997 from Wake Forest University and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, a three-year player from Davidson College who arrived to the Warriors in 2009, are two players that are in organizations that are winning and winning in a disciplined fashion. Coach Greg Popovich of the Spurs and coach Steve Kerr of the Warriors, both run disciplined offensive and defensive teams, which consequently both lead in the Western Conference and overall NBA.
Under the direction of mature leadership from players like Duncan and Curry, the teams have not only had success, but long term success. So if these teams are examples of how a perennial multi-year player can lead their team to success over a span of seasons, then why are teams not drafting more seniors? Why isn’t Buddy spoken of as a first, second or third draft pick?
It seems that if a player shows the potential to be a breakout all-star in the NBA, teams to do not want to risk losing a chance at acquiring talent. The players themselves have their own incentives to jump into the league as well. It is pretty much each player’s dream to play in the NBA, the money and fame are also a big a reason. If a player knows that he can instantly enter the league and receive money that can potentially change his family’s life and also leverage them to do other things, then the NBA is very attractive.
The NBA has no reason to stop a player that will strengthen their brand by coming to the NBA. Look at a player like Blake Griffin, who came to the Los Angeles Clippers and has made them a continuous contender for the playoffs every year. Griffin is a brand, he used the NBA to acquire endorsements and even start his own entertainment career. For the Clippers, they believe that they have a perennial player who eventually is going to bring a championship banner, but none yet.
When a player like Buddy decides to return for another season he is going against a norm. The decision to try to obtain his degree and to allow himself to form into a real threat on the court and a mature leader should be considered the benchmark that players hold themselves accountable to, but it unfortunately does not work this way.
Today we see ex-NBA players who have left the league in immense debt and in many cases without a championship and a very small legacy. A player like Antoine Walker, who played with many teams, is left today without many options and in financial ruin.
The business of the NBA has no reason to be concerned with the outcome of these players’ lives as long as while they are in the league they sell tickets. It is a deeper holistic perspective and I think a winning tradition that we are seeing with teams like the Spurs and Warriors, who have understood in investing in a more established player.
We shall see if Buddy is able to hoist the trophy and once again with a basketball net draping from his hat in his Sooners jersey. But come May, he may have a tassel draping while wearing his graduation gown and that degree in human relations which unlike money or his game, it cannot be taken away.