Strangely, Kobe Bryant was recently held up as an example for why Jabari Parker should return to Duke for a second season.
Kobe, of course, went to the NBA directly from high school and has had an extremely fruitful career, both financially and in terms of on-court success. But I guess he was only a low-rotation backup as a rookie, or something. Only the most twisted reading of Kobe’s career would indicate his bypassing of college wasn’t a roaring success.
Just take it from Kobe himself. Lakers Nation:
“I don’t really look at it from that perspective of what was good for the game of basketball,” Kobe said when asked about his impact on the NBA as a prep-to-pro player. “I think the reality is there’s been a lot of players who’ve come out of high school. If you do the numbers and you look at the count, you’ll probably see players who came out of high school that were much more successful on average than players who went to college for a year or two or however long. It seems like the system really isn’t teaching players anything, if you go to college. If you go to college, you play, you showcase, and you come to the pros. Well, that’s always been the big argument, as a player you have to go to college, you have to develop your skills and so forth and so on, and then you come to the league. So, we kind of got sold on that dream a little bit. Fortunately, I didn’t really listen much to it. Neither did KG. Neither did LeBron. I think that worked out pretty well for all three of us.
“I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decisions, especially as it pertains to going out and working and having a job. You should be able to go out there and make your own choices.”
You don’t have to count the players who went from high school to the NBA. Neil Paine already did the work for you, and Kobe’s intuition is correct. Drafted high school players have been much more successful than their college-going peers.
But, really, that shouldn’t matter.
Kobe nailed this when he said he didn’t view the decision through the lens of what’s best for basketball on the whole. “You should be able to go out there and make your own choices.”
Unfortunately, high school players can’t make the choice to jump to the NBA anymore, thanks to the infamous one-and-done rule.
Instead, they’re left playing in college for – often – less-than-market compensation. They’re stuck there so NBA owners (who don’t want to pay to develop their own talent), college coaches and administrators (whose salaries artificially inflated by the money their players aren’t allowed to receive) and marginal NBA players (who voted in a Collective Bargaining Agreement that excludes players who could threaten their jobs) can make more money.
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However, I don’t completely agree with Kobe, that the college basketball system “really isn’t teaching players anything.”
Going to college is the best route for a majority of top high school prospects. The D-League may change that someday, but there just aren’t enough viable paying basketball jobs to accommodate all of them. And despite whatever motives they have, many major-team college basketball coaches do a good job developing their players.
For many players, college basketball is the best choice. It’s just a shame more of them don’t have the choice to go a different way.