Imagine receiving the brunt end of a fiery debate that rocks the foundation of American higher education to its core and you are just months removed from high school and had no prior hand in the debate.
Add in the fact that rules were implemented for your current organization by an outside organization that is preventing you from turning professional, forcing you to join said current organization, and you have thousands of men who are labeled as coddled and not deserving of fame.
This is the struggles current NCAA men’s basketball and football players face on a daily basis. The masses want to remove their ‘student-athlete’ label and replace them with ‘fake’ and ‘not a real college student’ despite the fact, at least according to Mason men’s basketball coach Paul Hewitt, that they are not exposed to the interworking of intercollegiate sports and do not realize the balancing act they partake in every year.
In 2005, the National Basketball Association created a rule that required those wanting access into the league at least one full year out of high school. Instead of focusing on the success of future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, the failures of Kwame Brown, Jonathan Bender and Sebastian Telfair enabled the rule as a way to protect aspiring players that would be going up against men sometimes twice their age and far more advanced in body growth.
Outside of Brandon Jennings, all top-notch American NBA draft hopefuls over the last nine years that perhaps want to make the jump straight to the NBA have played at the collegiate level for a singular season.
This, in turn, has caused many to believe the college athletics system core of providing an elusive experience of education and competitive sport simultaneously is decaying and instead becoming a dumping ground for individuals who want to try their hand in the professional ranks but cannot.
On Wednesday, Hewitt was a guest on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” radio show and adamantly disagreed with the notion that the players don’t want to earn an education which was brought up by Jeff Van Gundy the day before.
“Jeff Van Gundy, who I think is one of the really good guys in the coaching profession, he really understands what basketball can do in a lot of different ways for kids. I thought to myself ‘Man, the general public must think really poorly of us,’” Hewitt said. “So later in the day before practice, I played his comments to my players and I didn’t say anything, I just said ‘I want you to listen to this and have a discussion about it.’
“A lot of people were offended. They said ‘Coach, that’s what they think of us?’ Unfortunately, stereotypes are very strong to beat down in our society and it’s up to you guys to make sure that you take full advantage of what you have here. I think the overwhelming majority do, [but] I think oftentimes we get bogged down by stereotypes and really don’t step back and take a big picture look at what’s really going on in the American education system.”
Of Hewitt’s current squad, only one player has experience outside of the American education system: sophomore Marko Gujanicic.
Hailing from Serbia, Hewitt lamented the fact that his peers in the country envy Gujanicic’s opportunity to both get an education and play basketball.
“He spoke up in the meeting, talking about how the system is so much better here than it is over there,” Hewitt said. “Because over there you practice six, seven hours a day and you don’t have a choice to pursue an education.
“Marko spoke up and said that ‘I have friends over there who chose to go the athletic track and they practice two, three times a day and they play one or two games a week, but when they get to about 22, 23 and they can’t make a decent living playing basketball.’ They come to me and say ‘Hey, you did the right thing by going to America.’ He’s in his sophomore year now, he’s an International Studies major and he spoke positively of the 20-hour rule a week that we can only workout 20 hours a week and that we do have study hall.”
One of the biggest detractors of the NCAA’s worth to young basketball players is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who said last week the NBA Developmental League is a better option.
Hewitt, however, disagrees with that sentiment.
“The Cuban thing really confused me,” Hewitt said. “The NBA one-and-done rule is something that was instituted by the NBA owners, so if Mark Cuban has a problem with that rule, he and the owners should get together and repel it. That’s not an NCAA rule. A lot of people are running around thinking the NCAA put that rule in. That’s number one.
“Number two, 18-year-olds are going to act like 18-year olds. Over my years, I’ve had kids like Chris Bosh and Derrick Favors and Thaddeus Young and guys who have gone one-and-done, and those kids were model students at Georgia Tech. I can remember the last exam Chris Bosh took before he put his name in the draft was his calculus exam.
“What I’ve found over the years is when they get about to their junior year and they start to realize their dream of professional basketball is a lot harder to obtain then I thought or I’ll never reach it, then education becomes really important to them. Which is very similar to the normal 18-year-old kid who comes in with a lot of options. The fewer options you have, the more interest you have.”
The finger pointing at the NCAA, though, is not over nor will it be for quite some time.
“Golic, you have a term that you say ‘the NFL is the kid that nobody can be mad at.’ Well NCAA college basketball and NCAA football is the kid that takes the blame for everything including the rule that the NBA put in.”