For some NBA players, college was that inconvenient road bump between AAU ball and the NBA. They may like the college life and getting to play in front of large arenas of ravenous fans, but the classes and studying were an inconvenience.
But there are guys in the NBA who would savor the chance to learn and be in an intellectual college environment. You know, what you tell everyone now you miss about college. Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire is one of those guys, one of the more thoughtful guys in the league.
And he told the New York Times that skipping college to go straight to the NBA was no easy call for him.
Deciding to go to the N.B.A. and pass on being a part of what University of Memphis had to offer was the hardest choice I have made in my life. I am not sure if I’ll get my degree or not. I have taken college classes during my summers off, but it’s tough to fit traditional learning into my work schedule so I take classes on the Internet when I can. And I am very focused on continuing to learn new things. My foundation and most of my charitable work focus on creatively inspiring youth to get an education. I think education is the key for people to avoid poverty.
With my children, we talk a lot about what it means to have an education and what they want to be when they grow up. I also try to set a good example and make sure reading is a priority in their lives. Knowledge is power. What you don’t know can kill you.
For some guys like Stoudemire, skipping college seems the right move (he was playing 31 minutes a game as a rookie, starting 71 games that season for the Suns). The problem with the old system was the hangers on who convinced good young ballers they were going to make the high school to NBA jump only to find out that they were not drafted or not mentally ready for the leap. (Well, what the owners hated was the money spent scouting these kids and the risk involved in picking them, but that’s another story.)
I still favor a baseball style system: You can draft a kid out of high school, because there are guys like Stoudemire and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett who are ready for that leap. But if you are not drafted, you have to spend three years in college. That doesn’t mean that all those kids are going to study hard for three years in school, but some might learn about the world beyond the gym.
In the end, what matters to these youth is what matters in the education of all youth — it starts with parents who value it and encourage it. And it sounds like Stoudemire’s children are getting that. Which matters a lot more than hoops.