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NBA commissioner tells freshmen to stay in school

Celtics rookie James Young was not ready to make the jump from Kentucky to the NBA last season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

As commissioner Adam Silver spends Thursday evening smiling and receiving hugs from 30 first-round draftees, he would have preferred that several of those players were not eligible.

They are one-and-dones, the trendy term for players who enter the NBA Draft following one season, and this draft includes 14 players who applied for eligibility after their freshman season, and at least half of those will be first-round picks.

There have been debates between the NBA Players Association, which wants to maintain the one-and-done rule and even allow high school players to enter the draft, and the NBA, which would prefer to increase the age limit to 20, meaning only sophomores or older could declare.


As is usually the case, this class includes players who should have stayed in school. And there are players who felt inclined to try the NBA because their college eligibility was being investigated by the NCAA.

The one-and-done rule has provided mixed results in terms of successful players, but according to both the Players Association and the NBA, it's not a pressing issue.

The Players Association doesn't view allowing one-and-dones or even high school players into the draft as a major threat to those players who currently hold NBA jobs.

"We're talking a very small number of players that are good enough to even think about it realistically," NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told the Globe. "I would say that I don't think it's ever helpful to say 'no way, no how' to any issue. I would continue to say that we need to stop trying to find ways to limit access. We should allow — that happens in just about every other sport — access to the top-notch players that can compete in our league.

"We should stop artificially creating barriers to keep them out. And so I'm disappointed. I don't know what the union exchange for the 19-year-old age limit [would be] and it may be there is something that my guys would say we will allow for another year. But as a philosophical matter, the union opposes any continued roadblocks to have talented players to be able to come in and earn a living."


Silver believes there's an advantage to remaining in college.

"It is my belief that if players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will lead to a better league," he said. "And I know from a competitive standpoint that's something as I travel the league I increasingly hear from our coaches, especially, who feel that many of even the top players in the league could use more time to develop even as leaders as part of college programs."

The top tier group of one-and-dones — Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke's Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, the first high school player to skip college to play professionally in China, Duke's Justise Winslow, and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell — are expected to enjoy NBA success.

And then there are those who are taking a risk. Last year, the Celtics drafted one-and-done James Young from Kentucky. Young was not physically ready for the NBA, although he has potential. Should Danny Ainge draft or sign another small forward who would be more productive in the near future or wait on Young to develop?


NBA sources said Young, like many players his age, has a questionable work ethic. That has improved dramatically over the past year.

This year, there are those who are in Young's category, talented but taking a chance. There is Arizona's Stanley Johnson, Kentucky's Devin Booker and Trey Lyles, Duke's Tyus Jones, Kansas's Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, and Texas's Myles Turner. Many of these players are projected first-round picks but may turn out to be busts.

"There are a whole bunch of players that could have come back [to school]. I do think it cuts both ways," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "If the goal is to be drafted high, then it's one set of variables for the decision. If the goal is what is best for a long and productive career, then there may be other variables that come into play. What I think needs to be addressed or factored in by people is there is sort of an old-school mentality. Players used to stay for four years, everybody did.

"But now there have been a lot of players that have decided to stay over the last several years whose stock has gone down, and they blame the fact that they came back. As long as the player is making an informed decision, I'm OK with it. I'm fine with it."

In 2013-14, Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis, a long-term project at point guard, had a sparkling season, which encouraged him to enter the draft. Ennis was drafted by Phoenix, played sparingly before being traded to Milwaukee, where his future at point guard is murky at best.


It appears he wasn't ready. Jones, who helped lead Duke to the national championship with a stellar NCAA Tournament, is similar to Ennis, a guard who was not considered a one-and-done but turned into one.

"You will hear a lot of people say he's got to go. His stock is never going to be higher. He's got to go," Bilas said. "He doesn't have a choice. Well, yeah, he does have a choice. Maybe he wants to come back to improve his game because he thinks it will be better for his long-term career, or maybe his goal is, nope, I want to get as drafted as high as I can, and I'm never going to be drafted higher than now."

So that's the fundamental question prospects consider. Is it best to leave school before you are scrutinized and potentially exposed with more years in college? Or should those bubble one-and-dones stay in school, polish their games and perhaps enjoy longer and more productive NBA careers.

For players such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, and Kevin Durant, this was an easy call. But for Donté Greene, Josh Selby, Daniel Orton, Marquis Teague, and Daequan Cook, it was a regrettable decision.

Silver would prefer the one-and-done be done.

"We have seen it in international competition, for example, too, where teams of players that have played together for a long time have enormous advantage over teams comprised of superstars or players that come together over short periods of time," Silver said. "So I think from a college standpoint, if those teams could have an opportunity to jell, to come together, if those players had the benefit to play for some of these great college coaches for longer periods of time, I think it would lead to stronger college basketball and stronger NBA ball as well."


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.