A Brief History of One-And-Dones and the Impact of the NBA’s Age Limit

As the seconds ticked down to end the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship and the confetti begins to fall, the camera pans over to a crying Jalen Brunson of Villanova alongside his head coach Jay Wright. The junior looks not only like someone who had won his second national championship, but like someone who knows he’s playing his last basketball of college. His decision isn’t final, or at least isn’t publicly, but it’s been assumed by the public for some time now that he’s well on his way. And why wouldn’t he? He’s accomplished in his three years at Nova what most collegiate players dream of. His two national championship and 2018 national player of the year awards highlight the list, but his achievements continue on for a while. On top of that, he’ll still be able to still graduate with an early degree. By doing this, he’s become a poster boy for the benefits of the current one-and-done system in college basketball. Though he was a McDonald’s All American out of high school, he still came to college and ended up staying long enough to push his draft stock. Were he to have gone to the NBA right out of high school, he may have never had the accolades he now holds.

However, anecdotal evidence of a few long term players doesn’t tell the entire story. The current one and done system is the result of an age limit rule that the NBA placed in 2005. The intent of this was to stop players from going to the NBA right out of high school, a decision that had been increasing exponentially in popularity over the decade prior. Kevin Garnett was the first to start this wave, declaring for the draft in 1995 to be selected with the fifth overall pick by the Timberwolves. He was then followed by associate future hall of famers Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James to name a few. On the other hand, there were as many failures as there were legends in this group. Highly drafted players like Kwame Brown were quick busts then never heard from again. In 2005, the league decided it was risking too much with the busting high school players and, with argument from the players union, instituted an age limit of 19, creating the system we have today. (McCann)

The question we now ask is about the effectiveness of this system. Does it help to prevent early busts? Are players deciding to stay longer and potentially get a degree? Should players have to go to college at all? Taking a look at the numbers from the previous NBA drafts, initially, it does look like that argument could be made. In 2005, nine players were drafted out of high school. In 2006, only two players were drafted as one and dones. However, this trend was bucked very quickly. In 2007, eight freshmen were drafted out of college, and in 2008 that number had jumped to twelve. In the most recent draft, 2017, a stunning eighteen college athletes were drafted after their freshman year. In fact, eleven out of the past twelve NBA drafts have had a one and done athlete go number one overall. The players who would have declared out of high school are now made to take the tedious task of playing college basketball again when it’s clear they won’t be there for four years. To add to the narrative that the one year is useless, among NBA scouts, many tend not to focus on what successes or failures a player had in college and rather focus on physical nature and potential. One very recent example of this is Michael Porter Jr., a basketball player for the university of Missouri. He injured his back early in the season and played only a handful of games. He is still likely to declare for the NBA draft and is projected as a potential top five pick in the draft.

Without obvious positives, it makes the negatives of this situation harder to look away from. When these very high profile high school players go to the NBA, everyone tends to know the situation. They know they’ll only be in college for one year; their parents know they’ll only be in college for one year; and their coaches know they’ll only be in college for one year. This mutual understanding began to change the foundation of NCAA recruiting. When players know they are going to be leaving and are only in it for the money anyways, boosters began to attract these students through payments, illicit by NCAA rules. Why pretend like the players are amateur when the NCAA and the coaches all know that the student obviously isn’t there for an education? This began a dark and deep rabbit hole that the FBI is currently working through sorting out. (Rappaport) As long as the NBA has their age limit of 19, creating the current one and done system, they are intrinsically tied to this underbelly of college basketball. Maybe that’s why Adam Silver is working to reconnect with high schools. (Rollins)


Suggested Readings:

McCann, Michael A. “Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft.” Va. Sports & Ent. LJ 3 (2003)

Khadrice Rollins “Report: Adam Silver Wants to Revamp One-and-done Rule.” SI.com. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.si.com/nba/2018/03/05/adam-silver-elite-high-school-player-one-and-done-change-g-league.

Axson, Scooby, Dan Gartland, and Daniel Rapaport. “How the NCAA Can Solve Existential Hoops Crisis.” SI.com. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/23/fbi-probe-investigation-ncaa-recruiting-rules-andy-miller.


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