As I become older and balder, the excitement that comes with the end of the college basketball season is now dulled because the minute "One Shining Moment" ends (RIP Luther), the talk turns not to how good teams will be next year with many of their players returning, it is instead centered around which underclass players will leverage their seasons into becoming NBA draft picks. What makes me particularly crotchety is that while I can't knock many of these cats for getting their hustle on and realizing dreams of becoming professional basketball players, I know that the great majority who enter into the draft are not receiving sound evaluations and ultimately end up playing in some D-league arena or overseas as opposed to Staples Center, Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center.
As it is becoming clear that I may face this situation a little more than a decade from now when I'm looking up at my "Lil" Man (he's already near my shoulder at 6yrs), I've decided to practice laying out just how I would discuss the options so that my potential baller (his range on the backyard hoop is getting deeper) could make an informed choice. Maybe these notes will end up in the hands of some current baller mulling over whether or not he's ready.
IF BEING IN THE LOTTERY IS ASSURED: Son, you did it! I'm so proud. You have worked your ass off to get to this moment, and I'm so happy to see that it has paid off for you. HOWEVER, there are some things that you need to keep clear if you are really going to maximize the blessing that you are about to receive. You know how we've been waking up at 5a to be in the gym at 6a, and then going back to the gym at 4p since you started HS? That can't change. You're about to be playing with MEN son, and there's so much more development that needs to happen so that you are not just a lottery pick, but an eventual all-star. You now have to make decisions that you have never been faced with before, and will require YOU to do your research and be able to read people. Your mother and I will be here for you every step of the way, so don't hesitate to ask when you have questions. Just know that you're about to enter the grown up world, where the repercussions of your mistakes are much higher. This is also a good reason for you to keep taking classes toward your degree in the off-season while you're training. Finishing your degree will make the transition into your second career much more seamless and give you the kind of social capital that enables you to partner with those who will make sure your ball money has longevity. If you keep the discipline you've had thus far, you'll be fine.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on: Nerlens Noel (pictured), Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo
IF PROJECTED TO BE TAKEN IN THE FIRST ROUND: Son, what a season. You've got the scouts talking and that's good, but I'm concerned about your evaluations coming back from NBA people. They point out some of the same things as your coach in terms of being ready to contribute in the League, and isn't that what you want. Does Marquise Teague look happy to you sitting on that bench in Chicago? How do you think Tyler Lamb feels playing the majority of the time for the Tulsa 66ers instead of the OKC Thunder? If you stay in school for another year, that's another year for you to shine on a Top team with national TV exposure so that you are ready to contribute when you get to the league. I know you want to get paid, but your mother and I have you covered. Don't spit on that scholarship you're on either. It's worth something, and will become even more important when you're playing career is over. You want to coach in college? You'll need a degree. You want to build your own empire? A degree will help you not have to depend on someone else to figure it out. I just don't want you to rush this move, because if you jump too early and end up in a place that's not going to develop you, then you're stuck, and when you're not on the court, you can be forgotten quickly.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on: Glen Robinson, III (pictured), Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLamore, Gary Harris
NOT PROJECTED TO BE TAKEN IN FIRST ROUND: Son, help me understand why you want to leave so bad. Where are you hearing that you're going to be taken in the first round? You know when it comes to leaving early, being taken in the first round is important because being taken in the second round gives you no guarantee of being on the Opening Day roster. There are no agents calling son, your college coach didn't get a favorable response from his sources, so tell me what's really going on so I can ride with you. If you don't want to be in school anymore, cool, but lets plan for what happens should you not get drafted. And what are going to do if you drop out of school until the draft? What's the plan? You've invested too much time into this to take this big of a risk when you still have the opportunity to develop at school for free. Yes, I know you see the carrot of a big contract right in front of you, but you've done fine to this point, and why not take a little more time to make sure that you are going to get a guaranteed contract? The decision is ultimately yours son because it's your life, just make sure you've got a plan.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on: James Michael McAdoo, Gorgui Dieng (pictured), Shane Larkin, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Ultimately my Lil Man will have to make his own decision should he go down the athletic path that the aforementioned athletes are travelling. It is a road that can provide life-changing rewards, but only to the few, and if you're unfortunately not one of the "chosen ones" then there is a whole life that you have to live off the court. I worry that too many young men put all their eggs in the athletic basket, and then when it doesn't work out, they don't have options. There's got to be a better way to play the "game" than that, and that is what I would hope my son would take away from our conversation.