The NCAA appears to have finally realized that student-athletes’ desires to go pro doesn’t have to be a sports taboo. Last weekend, the NCAA held their first Elite Student-Athlete Symposium in Indianapolis, inviting 19 college basketball players (but no freshmen) to an educational program about handling life as a prospect and, eventually, a professional player, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
Some of the invitees were potential first-round picks, like Kansas center Udoka Azubuike and Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. Others, such as Kansas State forward Dean Wade and Butler wing Kelan Martin, are likely late-second round picks in a best-case scenario.
The program brought the 19 prospects in front of NCAA staff, ex-NBA players, former NBA execs, and reps from the league and the players union. And they covered a variety of topics:
Some of the topics that were discussed include loss of value and disability insurance, a scouting panel with ex-NBA executives (exploring what teams look for in prospects), a meeting with Ron Klempner of the NBPA (including a conversation about navigating the agent-selection process), Financial Awareness (with Antoine Walker telling his story and personal struggles), Social Media best practices, entering the NBA draft while retaining NCAA eligibility (from an academic and amateurism standpoint), ex-NBA/NCAA players (Eddie Gill, Jahidi White, Malik Rose) discussing realistic expectations for post-college careers, and the “tips and traps of being a college basketball athlete” from the NCAA enforcement staff. The keynote speaker was Derek Anderson, who told his unlikely story of how he emerged as a top-shelf high school prospect, NCAA champion, NBA lottery pick, and then successful businessman following his basketball career.
You can understand the NCAA’s hesitancy to include freshmen, but that decision shows they are still not ready to face all the facts. The top seven picks in the 2017 NBA draft were all freshmen. The first four picks of the 2018 draft will likely be freshmen — Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Missouri’s Michael Porter, Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton and Texas’ Mohamed Bamba — and it wouldn’t be shocking to see up to eight freshman get selected before the first upperclassmen goes off the board.
Any college hoops athlete considering a professional career — which, let’s face it, is basically all of them — deserves this type of education before he gets thrust into a world of agents, million-dollar contracts and constant media scrutiny. But the players who need this most are the future stars, who tend to be freshmen. The NCAA did a great service to several athletes by holding this symposium with the NBA, but they also did a great disservice to the several freshmen who will be entering their first professional season one year from now.