As I was doing some research, I clicked on a link from NBA.com that was posted in 2003. It was the number of “current” NBA players from the Mid-American Conference and there were 11. 15 years later the actual current number is 2. Part of the problem is that the conference has fallen in those 15 years. Another problem is how the NBA decides which guys it wants to draft and other dynamics of the league.
I perused some mock drafts and they were exactly what I expected. The vast majority of players that are going to get selected are underclassman from power schools. The rest are Europeans, with less than a handful of guys from the bigger named small schools. Since guys aren’t staying in college, the draft has become a giant gamble.
The D-league and one-and-done college players are ruining the game. Or at least the factors that brought about the one-and-done and the D-league. They are both band-aid solutions to a problem that isn’t going away any time soon. America is a sports junkie, and there is a ton of money to go around. The kids want their share, and are willing to jump straight to the NBA to get it. The NBA is all too glad to take these kids, but did throw out a concession to the colleges, basically forcing kids to go to a college for a year. Of course the NBA misses more than they hit on draft picks, so they created a developmental league, which very few people watch.
This does nothing good. The kids aren’t getting an education, on or off the court. The NBA is still taking wild shots in the dark on ability and character. That’s why there are so many European picks. These guys have been playing on the same team for a long time, and there is more film on them. That’s not where the best basketball is played, so they are no guarantee, either. So many bad players, with huge contracts, leads to a lot of bad teams.
These most recent NBA Finals, you had great players on both sides of the court. It ended in 5 games. While the game is evolving at the highest level, the rest NBA is garbage. It was always going to be Golden State and Cleveland making it to the finals this season. It was always going to be Golden State winning the finals. Before the finals, the two teams combined for one loss in the playoffs. Golden State lost exactly one game in their playoff run. That’s a competitive league?
Now that the season is done, the NBA executives are in a mad scramble to consolidate all the best players to their team. Those that fail will be faced with the dilemma, make the playoffs to little fanfare since they really have zero chance to win, or tank and enter the draft lottery, a giant crap shoot. Meanwhile, overall numbers are going to go into a free fall. People are going to spend their entertainment dollars and time on a competitive sport.
That’s the NBA’s problem, and I don’t really care. When it comes to college, it’s a case of we hardly knew ya at the highest level. The players on the teams that make it far in the NCAA tournament get the attention of the NBA scouts, and are off to the NBA. Kids from other teams transfer up and down, or just head to the D-League, trying to improve their lot in life. What’s left is an NCAA that is a shell of it’s former self.
I am generally not one of those guys. I think most sports have evolved to levels unfathomable just a few decades prior. Basketball has not one of those sports. Now don’t get me wrong, the best players in the NBA are unbelievable and evolving. LeBron James is 6’8 and 250 pounds of athleticism that shot 56% from the floor and 38% from three while averaging a triple double in the NBA finals. If you don’t think he is one of the greatest ever, you are wrong. However, the overall game is going down. People talk about super teams in the NBA right now, but the NBA had them in the 80s and 90s, too. They also had a bunch of teams that could compete against those super teams. The Bulls won 6 NBA finals in 8 years. They lost 7 games during the playoffs the year they won their second title. This Golden State team lost 1, to a LeBron James led team, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Again, that’s the NBA’s problem. We had super teams in college back in the 90s, too. And we had teams that could compete against them. Us fans learned their personalities as they honed their craft over 3 and 4 years. We then followed their careers in the NBA. Now, you better follow high school basketball if you want to have more than one season of information on the best player in college. The last great team to really stick together was also the last team to win back to back titles. That’s not a coincidence.
Transfers are becoming more common. Sometimes, that helps the MAC up it’s game, like Steve Taylor Jr. at Toledo last season. Sometimes it hurts, like Jaaron Simmons heading to Michigan from Ohio. While I think the MAC could do a better job using transfers to their advantage, I think there is a better way for the MAC to improve their lot in basketball life.
Teamwork, baby. It’s what is sorely lacking in the modern game. I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that the 1991 Duke Blue Devils did a better job rotating on defense than the Cavs or Warriors. Partly because those college teams played together longer than their current NBA counterparts. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much. Certainly the NBA teams did a much better job back in the day, because they played together much longer, while also learning teamwork and defensive fundamentals while in college. I am not going to besmirch the character of everyone in the NBA, so I’ll besmirch mine. 19 year old Jimmy would have jumped straight to the NBA if able, and wouldn’t have listened to anyone once I cashed that first giant paycheck. By year two, I would have been placed on IR because of my liver. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most guys today aren’t as focused on the team aspect of the game once they hit the league like they were when a day job loomed over failure.
Back on track.
So while the MAC can use a free agent or two to help their cause, they really need to prevent players from leaving, either through transfer or the NBA. Obviously they can’t force them. They need to focus on creating great citizens and teammates, and that will translate to success at the next level. That will, in turn, lead to more success from the kids that make it out of the MAC, and help it’s reputation with the league and with high school recruits.
There are a couple of examples in the MAC right now.
Coach Whitford and the Ball State Cardinals have a load of talent, and have a trio of soon to be juniors. One was a transfer this season. They also added another transfer for 2018 from Missouri that happened to play with some of those guys in high school. This team can be special. A byproduct will be Tahjai Teague, who continues to grow as a player. He came in raw, and by the time he leaves after 4 years, I predict he will be a solid NBA prospect.
The Western Michigan Broncos closed out the regular season on a near double digit winning streak, and lost a close one to the Cardinals in the MAC tournament. They only lose one starter to graduation and should be a force. Thomas Wilder, who coach Hawkins praised extensively for his work ethic, also has NBA potential. While I don’t see him setting the league on fire, I do see the type of guy that lasts for more than a decade, and improves every locker room he is a part of.
They aren’t the only examples, but that is the formula for MAC teams to succeed in the new era of college basketball. Continuity, both with players and coaches. Also known as the team. There are very few things that the MAC can use to their advantage in this modern sports world, and comradery is one of them. The MAC is a special place. Playing with the same guys for 4 years builds a special bond. Being a part of the a community that is focused on more than wins and losses is a treasure that lasts a lifetime. And, it helps you become a better basketball player.