Eleven underclassmen from the Pac-12 had their names entered in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Do you know how many were picked in the first round? One — USC’s Kevin Porter, who went to the Cavaliers with the 30th and final pick.
Do you know how many went undrafted? Six. If you put Luguentz Dort, Louis King, Moses Brown, Brandon Randolph, Kris Wilkes and Kenny Wooten on the same team next year, they’d probably win the league by three games.
Draft night confirmed what we suspected about Pac-12 basketball last season: It wasn’t very good. And when even your marginal players would rather go undrafted than spend another year on campus, it’s hard to predict drastic improvement next year.
Some of the players clearly were acting on bad advice. Wooten is an intriguing talent, but whoever told him he was ready for the NBA did him a big disservice. Now instead of returning to Oregon for another shot at the Final Four, he and King will be competing for roster spots in the G League or exchanging their currency overseas.
The Pac-12 wasn’t the only league that took a hit; across the country, more than 40 underclassmen left school but went undrafted. It stinks for the players, and it also stinks for college basketball, which is losing its future stars before they get a chance to develop.
There’s a simple solution to this, and it’s one the NCAA already approved: Let underclassmen return to college if they declare for the draft but don’t get selected.
The NCAA changed its rules a year ago to allow underclassmen who go undrafted to return to school as long as they notify their athletic directors by 5 p.m. on the Monday after the draft.
But like any changes to the one-and-done rule, this one requires the approval of the NBA and the NBA Players Association. So for now, players have 10 days following the NBA combine to make a decision, and for those who choose to stay in the draft, there’s no turning back.
Allowing players to test the NBA waters is, on the whole, a good thing. It means a player like Payton Pritchard can attend pre-draft workouts, get feedback from NBA teams and identify the parts of his game that need to improve.
It also makes more players susceptible to bad advice. You’d need five rounds to make room for all the players who’ve been told they’ll get drafted. For those who get snubbed, why not give them the option to spend another year in college?
This is one area where Major League Baseball seems to have it right. Players can turn pro directly out of high school or wait until their junior or senior years of college. If they don’t like where they get drafted, college is always an option.
Oregon’s Kenyon Yovan is a prime example. He was drafted by the Mariners in the 32nd round coming of out high school but decided to sign with the Ducks. He would have been drafted much higher this year but slipped to the 27th round because of an injury that required surgery.
If Yovan had been forced to make a decision before the draft, he’d probably be preparing for pro ball right now. With a chance to weigh all the information, he decided to play another season at Oregon and try to boost his stock by proving he’s healthy.
Why shouldn’t a college basketball player be able to do the same?
You can imagine how Oregon’s roster might look different if underclassmen had the option to return after the draft. Bol Bol was going to the NBA regardless, and while his slide into the second round was unexpected, I doubt he’s spent any time second-guessing his decision.
King and Wooten were in a different spot. Both had up-and-down college careers, and both could have taken off with another year’s experience. If given the chance, I wonder if they’d consider it worthwhile to play another year of college basketball.
Maybe the answer to that question is no. For some players, earning a salary overseas is a no-brainer compared with playing college basketball for free. So if that’s their situation, the best response is to wish them well and move on.
But if any part of them wishes for a do-over, shouldn’t the NBA allow them the option?
That’s a decision no one should second-guess.