Prior to last year, just two freshmen had ever left Duke University for the NBA draft during coach Mike Krzyzewski's long tenure. Now, in his 32nd season at the school, Krzyzewski has lost freshman players in back-to-back years: The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Austin Rivers entered his name in the draft this week.
"Austin had a terrific year as a freshman and has put himself in a position to pursue his dream of being a great player in the NBA," Krzyzewski said in a statement. "He is an outstanding young man with an even more impressive family. We are in total support of Austin, his family and his decision. We look forward to watching him continue to develop and excel at the next level."
Ever since 2006, when the NBA stopped allowing high school players in the draft, the "one and done" phenomenon has been a major issue in college basketball. The University of Kentucky and coach John Calipari have come to symbolize the trend, drawing plenty of criticism as a result. Eight of the 40 players drafted by the NBA as freshmen the past six years came out of Calipari's programs at Kentucky and Memphis. His freshmen have been top four picks in four consecutive drafts, including No. 1 picks John Wall in 2010 and Derrick Rose in 2008.
The streak is expected to continue this year, with Wildcats freshman Anthony Davis projected as the No. 1 pick and another, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, projected in the top five. Neither player has announced his intentions yet, but it's completely understandable if they leave after this season. They'll be guaranteed millions of dollars to play against the world's best competition.
"Duke has prepared me for the challenges that are ahead, both on and off the court," said Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I have learned so much from the coaching staff and my teammates that will help me succeed at the next level."
He can earn his degree later — at his leisure — if he likes.
College-basketball administrators, fans and coaches don't like the steady exodus because it has a negative effect on their game. Administrators worry about the appearance, especially when some players neglect their studies during the brief stay. With so many stars staying on campus for the bare minimum, there's an increasing disconnect with fans. And coaches have to be prepared to replace their best players every year or two.
Those sound like personal problems. Yes, some players make foolish decisions and leave prematurely, winding up with no NBA contract and ineligible for college hoops. But the same can be said of regular students. Some leave school early and strike it rich (Bill Gates), while others leave early and struggle mightily. Some take their schoolwork seriously while on campus, while others party hard and flunk out.
Attempting to force college-basketball players to stay in school doesn't make sense. Other students aren't forced to stay in school. If a great job opportunity pops up before their degree is complete, students are free to make whatever decision they like.
That's also part of growing up, one of the main lessons college is supposed to teach.
So if Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist join Rivers and others who are bolting for the NBA, I'm not mad at them. They can continue college without playing college basketball.