Should Kentucky Wildcats basketball stars go pro?

You don’t see the leader of a national championship team at the college level answering the question “What will you do next?,” with plans for a vacation to Disney world.  Aside from the fear of being stripped of the title due to endorsement regulations for amateur athletes, the primary reason is: college isn’t the pinnacle of the basketball world.  There’s much more to do, and the best athletes are focused on maximizing their potential.

In all likelihood, at least Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist , and Terrance Jones will not be Wildcats next season.  Even more may defect to the ranks of those who get paid far more than the cost of tuition, books, room and board (which are at least worth a full-time salary to most).  But, is this the right path for these young men to take?

The purpose of college is to prepare students for the professions they are pursuing.  Most athletes will not go on to professional sports.  The professions that most degrees prepare for are those with a normal retirement age – not mid 30s or earlier like in basketball.  So, if a young man has the ability to play in the NBA – a career that will certainly be short-lived – why should he stay in college for two or three more years which could amount to 20-25% of his career?  Besides, if the importance of the degree is the main concern for those opposed to early departure, why don’t people who oppose pre-graduate draft eligibility play a role in helping the young men get their degrees while in the NBA?

I’ve never been a fan of Shaquille O’neal (except for the year he played for the Cavs), but I was very impressed when he finished his degree from LSU while playing for the Lakers.  I’m not sure how his degree prepared him for car, pain medicine and soap commercials, but I’m convinced that the process of higher education provides critical thinking that is useful in all aspects of life.  Nonetheless, his motivation for completing the BA degree was the promise he made to his parents and his coach when he left, not because of encouragement from elsewhere.

I’m afraid that the main objection to students enlisting in the pros before graduation is the objectors’ love of their team.  Loyalty to the school is another common argument, and I believe it highlights the real issue.  The institution is more important than the individual in the minds of many – a rather un-American argument for a truly American sport.  To his credit, John Calipari, the Wildcats’ coach, doesn’t resent his guys for their inevitable decision.  His job is to win games, and the problem with recruiting is that if you do it well, you’ll have to do it more often.  The best players in the country will not stay in college for long and they’ll have to be replaced.  It’s about time people stop making these young men feel bad and graciously release them to do what they were prepared for.

The parallel with church is striking.  We encourage our kids to bring Jesus to the world and then too often restrict them to our way of going about it in the setting we have prepared for them.  It’s not primarily about what we think is best for our kids, it’s about our fear of risking the future of our churches by losing our best members.  But our job is to prepare and send people into the world.  If we do it well, we’ll have to do it more often.

It’s the price of being the exceptional at what we are called to do.

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