Schwartz: NBA Draft, Reality Leaves Hawkeyes In Limbo

June 20, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Thursday night’s NBA Draft reminds us of college basketball’s present no-win situation, a dilemma that has landed smack dab on the Iowa Hawkeyes and dozens of other programs.

To have a chance at an NCAA title, you need one, maybe two, first-round worthy players. But most of the players taken in the first round have just one or two years of college experience. They help you win, but they’re basically rent-a-players. From any perspective there’s nothing ethically wrong with that; go get your career and your money.

The result, however – for fans, at least – is the lack of connection with players. I can only speak for myself, not you, when I say that I’m a dinosaur: I like it when college basketball players stay four years. I get to know them a little, watch them grow, cheer for them on Senior Day.

The flip side, or course, is that the type of player who stays four years is not the type of player who leads you to an NCAA title. They’re the type who play their hearts out, sign autographs for your niece and nephew, and put up a valiant effort against a two seed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Which option is better? A) Players become a four-year part of the community, but the odds of a championship are slim, or B) You do what you have to do to get players who use college hoops as a layover to the NBA and make an actual run at an NCAA title?

The answer is a matter of personal preference. I lean toward the first option but, if I’m being honest, wouldn’t mind selling Iowa’s soul for a year or two if it meant a Final Four run. You might fall heavier on the second option. There is no right choice. Personally, I love watching players like Peter Jok and Luka Garza develop from dominant high school players into talented college players. It would, however, be tough to argue against the Kentucky approach of bringing 3-5 new starters every year if you knew a national title was almost always in play.

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Which brings us back to tonight’s NBA Draft, in which some projections don’t have anyone older than a sophomore going among the Top 10 picks. The NBA has its own issues, which is not for this column, among them: why won’t it establish some sort of a program for 18 year olds instead of driving those with no interest in college to college; its ongoing tanking problem; and its inability/unwillingness to work with college basketball on the early-entry issues.

All of which brings us back to middling programs such as the Hawkeyes, which might sound like an insult even though it isn’t. It’s just the result of their circumstances and philosophy, lack of imagination, and perhaps a hint of self-fulfilling prophecy.

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No Hawkeyes will be drafted tonight. Nicholas Baer was this year’s keynote graduate. It’s been 21 years since a Hawkeye has been taken in the first round, when Ricky Davis went 21st overall to Charlotte, spent 12 years in the NBA, made a cool $40 million, and left a legacy of … well … you might remember his hilariously shameless attempt at a triple-double.

Two Hawkeyes have gone in the draft since Fran McCaffery took over as head coach in 2010. Devyn Marble (2014) and Aaron White (2015) both went in the second round. Perhaps Joe Wieskamp will someday become McCaffery’s first Hawkeye first-rounder, but NBA teams typically don’t like their rookies too old (unless they come from Gonzaga), so Wieskamp has one, maybe two years at most to play his way into the first round.

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We’re in a weird place with basketball. None of it quite makes sense from a multi-level competitive perspective, the goals and needs of fans and the goals and needs of players. As a result none of it – college hoops, the pro game, the fan experience – is as good as it could be. It’s still great, but it could be even greater.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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