June 27, 2018
If you developed a vague sense of déjà vu while catching up on news of the NBA draft, you’re not alone. Some stories seem to make the rounds on an annual basis, including the perennial favorite of pundits: the “one-and-done” rule. (After all, it’s been covered in 2017, in May of this year, then picked up again in multiple media outlets in June.)
The current NBA Draft minimum age stands at 19. The league has gone on record as advocating 20. The players union would prefer 18. Until this is finally settled, bloggers and journalists will continue to surface the story and bring forth a seemingly endless litany of pro-and-con examples.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Don’t get me wrong…it’s absolutely a debate worth having, but there’s a fundamental truth that doesn’t seem to garner a lot of airtime on the topic: “readiness” is less a question of age and more a question of maturity.
DI ball is a high-stakes, high-pressure environment where student-athletes need to navigate myriad on- and off-court demands to stay conditioned and stave-off injury, all while keeping grades high enough to maintain eligibility. The academic component will take on even greater importance beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year when NCAA revenue sharing will be tied to academic achievement.
Of course, going pro places an incredibly high level of demand on the athlete as well, but off-the-court pressures are, in many ways, more challenging to manage. Sponsors, agents, charities…they’re all vying for the players’ time. For many players, this is also their first exposure to the need for financial and wealth management planners to ensure they’re ready for careers when their playing days draw to a close.
In either scenario – embarking on a college career or jumping straight into the draft – the support structure available to the athlete can make the difference between becoming a role model or becoming another cautionary tale. Coaches, trainers, team operations professionals, as well as player development support staff, are all tasked with driving success of both the individual and the program as a whole, but these services need to act in a coordinated fashion to truly support the athlete.
Perhaps all would be better served – player and team alike – if the focus were to shift toward ensuring that athletes of any age have access to an active network of mentors, coaches, and counselors to facilitate these major life transitions. For student-athletes, that means learning how to effectively balance academic and athletic demands, and developing a schedule that leaves ample time for each. For those transitioning into the NBA, it means ensuring that young players have access to mentors that will help them learn the skills they need to grow and prosper, and to represent themselves and their teams in a positive way even when they’re not in uniform. With the right support structure, both athletic excellence and character development are a natural outcome.
Taking a holistic view of the athlete, beyond on-the-court stats and ticket-selling potential, places the priority where it should be: on fully developing the person as well as the player.