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we don't need no education
i guess we'll take poindexter
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Kwame Brown is money, baby. In fact, he's so money that when he was selected by Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards in the 2001 NBA Draft as the first ever first pick straight out of high school, he even made waddling NBA commissioner David Stern look like he had a little street cred.

Oh yeah, he's also up for three-point-oh-eight million next year.

Pell grant? Shmell grant.

There were a record 47 early-entry candidates, those who did not complete the standard four years of NCAA eligibility, available in this year's draft, with a staggering six high school students. Eighteen and nineteen year-olds rolling the dice. Big gamble, you ask?

The answer is a resounding, definitive no. In what looks more and more like conventional wisdom, the first four picks had never set foot in a college classroom, three of them were 2001 high school graduates, all guaranteed multi-million dollar contracts. In the meantime, the valedictorian, as it were, Duke's own Shane Battier, sat on the sideline, finally being snapped up by the struggling Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz. Ouch. Sorry, Shane.

The pundits and the critics and those with season tickets to alma maters will cry foul. They'll bemoan the current state of the NBA scouting and recruiting system. They'll decry a world where young Battier is considered washed up at the ripe old age of 22.

Well, they'll be wrong. In this instance anyway.

Turns out, Shane Battier was a media darling on an excellent team coached by a genius in a weak, weak field.

Yes, Duke's Coach K has called Battier the best all-around player he's ever coached. That means he's better than Laettner, better than Cherokee Parks, better than Grant Hill.

Well, yeah, he is.

Problem is, Duke has never, ever been known for putting go-to talent into the NBA. They have great teams and they win championships, but one on one? Against under schooled prodigies like Kobe, Kevin Garnett, and Tracy McGrady?

Not a chance. Sixth pick. Thanks for playing. Even Kobe's Sprite commercials are better than Hill's.

The high school kids, by the way, are all players. The teams that selected them aren't blowing that money on hype. Well, not all of them.

Of course, one can make the argument that the college game has been decimated by the exodus of young talent to the NBA. That argument surfaces every year, oddly enough around draft time. However, the quality of play in the NBA is getting better, much better. I'd put Kobe, Shaq, and Iverson up against Jordan, Magic, and Bird any day. So I tend to think that maybe it's the NCAA system that's broken, not the players.

And don't even get me started on whether or not we should pay the damn kids.

We should.

The negative response to early entrants is as understandable as it is knee-jerk. It's bashed into our heads how important an education is to our success. But seriously, post-secondary education is becoming less and less a factor in everyday life. Had someone offered me 3.08 mil at any point between senior day and five minutes before I received my degree, I would have smiled, signed the contract, and politely asked who needed to be killed. Having used my own degree for exactly five minutes of my professional life, I doubt I would have looked upon that decision with regret.

It isn't greed, people, it's common sense.

Now there are problems. There's no denying the problems. Two problems, to be exact. Well, to be brief anyway.

One: We're taking kids who have absolutely no desire to participate in our decrepit secondary system and depositing them into a university, based solely on the fact that they can play ball. Nothing wrong with this - provided the kid is getting an education. They're not, generally, and if they were, whatsisname would still have his job at Minnesota, instead of getting taken to the carpet by some snitchy tutor.

Two: The NCAA has made a spectacle of football and basketball, and they're getting exactly what they deserve. The extended season schedules, the bowl and BCS fiasco, the pre-pre-pre-season tournaments that may or may not count depending on which time zone the games are played in. It's a big mess, amplified by silly Title IX requirements and big, huge, dripping gobs of money from the postseason pies and the gremlin-like alumni associations.

And for a second, I divert back to the money thing. The coaches get paid, the ADs get paid, the conferences and the schools reap huge rewards off these kids, all the while expecting them to run the trifecta of education, athletics, and a friggin' part time job for expense money.

Pay 'em!

So where is the solution? If we put enough scholars in enough rooms in enough universities across the country, we should come up with something that will make everyone happy. Right?

Not exactly. Never underestimate greed.

It is my opinion that until the NBA gives the NCAA a big chunk of league money for the early entrants, the NCAA will sit on the fence and act like it's upset that the NBA is poaching its undergrads. But they really couldn't care less. For every Eddie Griffin that goes up early, Seton Hall gets two more kids who want to be the next Eddie Griffin.

But the NCAA is up to something. There's a proposal in the works to disallow schools from postseason play if they can't meet a 50% or higher 4-year graduation rate.

Having graduated in six years myself, I chuckle at this.

It was big news this year when Vince Carter came back to UNC to pick up his degree the night before the Raptors final playoff game against the Sixers. Does this show the importance of an education to Vince Carter, drafted in the top ten just a few years ago? Of course it does. More important than the multi-million dollar contact he signed with the Raptors when he came out early?

I don't know. Two-million-plus smells a lot like success to me.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


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michelle von euw
7.2.01 @ 10:05a

Where to start...would the "weak, weak field" be referring to the ACC or the NCAA tournament, which, I believe, Duke won this year? I will go to the mat for Shane Battier any day of the week. Not only is he the man on the court, but he's proven to be an intelligent, well-mannered, mature person who has handled his fame with grace and dignity. Plus, he's spent four years banging up against Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky, Stanford, and all the other elite college teams in the country. Who has Kwame Brown competed against? Fourteen-year-olds from Our Lady of the Little Flowers?

adam kraemer
7.2.01 @ 10:09a

So the argument of getting an education for education's sake holds no water with you? I don't know how much these guys actually learn in college, but the idea of encouraging teams to take a 6'4", 200 lb, undereducated, never-been-outside-the-neighborhood 17-year-old and hand him millions of dollars kinda makes me queasy.

michelle von euw
7.2.01 @ 10:09a

But, yes, I agree with what you are saying about the NCAA -- it's totally unfair that coaches, ADs, and schools make so much money from shoe contracts, TV deals, tournament & conference percentages, corporate sponsorships, and the athletes are held to a ridiculous, often-arbritary double standard.

jael mchenry
7.2.01 @ 11:04a

If they were really getting an education in college I would say that college is necessary, Adam. But I don't believe many of them are. At Duke, maybe. At Maryland, somehow I doubt it. Is the NBA really that much more scandalous an environment than the NCAA?

adam kraemer
7.2.01 @ 12:11p

No, but at least if they go to college first, they're given a little time to "grow up" before they get handed more money than any of us can possibly imagine. Not that there's a huge difference, but, for example, would you rather let a 17-year-old or a 22-year-old drive your car?

mary nettleton
7.2.01 @ 12:24p

Jael, shame on you for slamming Maryland! (just kidding!)

I don't see anything wrong with kids going straight to the pros, but why the backlash against someone like Shane Battier for choosing to stay in school? He would not have been drafted as high had he left earlier... And is the only measure of success how much someone has in the bank?

Also, I know a kid who plays high school ball against one of the top seniors in the nation. The kid I know is 5'7" and skinny. Now while I'm sure he's helping the pro prospect to pad his stats, I'm not so sure he accurately reflects the level of competition one faces daily in the NBA. Oh, and if this top senior chooses to go straight to the NBA rather than Duke (or NCSU or UNC), I say more power to him.

matt morin
7.2.01 @ 4:12p

When did college become mandatory? The fact is, most of America doesn't have a college degree and they all seem to operate just fine in society. And when it comes to athletes, where are all the people crying about the figure skaters, race car drivers, Olympic skiers, X-game skateboarders and even major league baseball players who make a HUGE living playing a sport and have never gone to college? I don't see anyone railing on Ken Griffey Jr. because he decided to take a few million and turn pro at age 18.

adam kraemer
7.2.01 @ 4:15p

Fuckin' Ken Griffey, Jr.
How was that?
Also, "operate just fine in society"? Define society.

michelle von euw
7.2.01 @ 4:22p

Here's the difference, Matt: people don't complain about Ken Griffey or Ben McDonald entering the draft post-high school because MLB has a complex system of minor leagues. So baseball boys can spend one or two or ten years playing against real competition and honing their skills, while the teams don't take so much of a risk if they guy turns out to be a flop (ie, McDonald).

michelle von euw
7.2.01 @ 4:33p

Whoops, posted too soon. For the NBA, NCAAs= the minor leagues, as far as player development goes. There are tons of problems with this system, as Joe's column points out, and there's talk of the NBA develop their own minor league system in years to come. Because most of America does not agree with the assessment that the NBA is a better league than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago, attendence is down across the board, shoe deals are down, corporate dollars are down, and Olakawandi-sized draft mistakes can't keep happening.

matt morin
7.2.01 @ 5:08p

Adam: By "society" I meant the United States. And my point was, there are millions of people without any college whatsoever who make a good living, own a home, have a 401K, and in general, have as high of quality of living as anyone else. So why do we feel the need to force certain people to go to college just because they play basketball?

matt morin
7.2.01 @ 5:13p

And Michelle, do you really think baseball's minor league system is better? Here's a job where 90% or more of the employees have very little chance for advancement, and have less chance each day they get older. The pay is terrible and there's almost zero job security. At least in the NBA, even if you're a high schooler who is drafted in the first round, but gets cut a year later, at worst you've got a half million bucks in your pocket. That's more than I can say for the pitcher drafted in the 47th round who hangs around double-A ball for 5 years and leaves the game with about $1.67 in his pocket.

matt morin
7.2.01 @ 5:17p

One more thing. The NBA isn't better than it was 10 years ago. But 20? Pre-Magic and Bird? The NBA was a mess of bad play and heavy drug use. I'll take this year's All-Star Rookie Game players over any NBA team from the 70's.

david l
7.2.01 @ 11:19p

The NCAA is getting exactly what it has created. Big tourney events, endorsements and publicity all for the pursuit of the golden dollar! The kids are learning from their role models. " I can go to school for four years and have thousands of people come to see me and I make Zero $$$$$...... or I can make the jump and get paid as opposed to the schools getting the dollars". Hmmmmmmmmmmmm tough decision. College sports have turned into a glorified apprenticeships with coaches, AD's, schools and sponsors making the loot. All the while, I have to make sure that no one pays for my lunch cause I could lose my eligibility. Who controls it all? Something to think about? Revolt? I think so.

adam kraemer
7.3.01 @ 9:31a

I think the solution is just to start paying the college players.

michelle von euw
7.3.01 @ 9:38a

Matt, I guess the question we are asking is, is the system better for whom? Definitely the NBA system is better for the high school kid who could end up with a few million dollars for five minutes playing time a year (Yinka Dare pops immediately to mind). I, however, was speaking from the consumer's perspective. For baseball players, the pay and job security may be terrible (at least for those who aren't bonus babies) but it is the same for actors, writers, and other types who give up everything to pursue their dreams. Hey, if we are going to shower them with cash and fame, might as well make them work for it.

matt morin
7.3.01 @ 8:05p

You have no idea how impressed I am that you could credibly and intelligently reference Yinka Dare. Free McDonald's Dream Team cups to the next person who can use Dwayne Schintzus in a sentence!

joe procopio
7.5.01 @ 9:33a

OK - first, Shane Battier is an excellent player, no doubt. Just not the top pick and it's not a crime that he isn't.

Top NBA prospects are coddled and floated through college academia. Agents ARE handing out Lexuses and Rolexes, which is a reason for those kids to avoid college as well as a reason for those kids in college to get paid.

The NBA minor league is a great idea and it will CRUSH the NCAA field.

Finally, the NBA is AMAZING right now, there's a powerhouse of talent that's taking a backseat to the potential MJ comeback.

adam kraemer
7.5.01 @ 11:16a

Michael Jackson is making a comeback?

michelle von euw
7.5.01 @ 11:45a

Perhaps he is, Adam. Have you heard Alien Ant Farm's version of "Smooth Criminal"?

joe procopio
7.5.01 @ 11:59a

Michael Jackson is not coming back, not after those last few seasons with the Kings...


jael mchenry
7.5.01 @ 12:09p

I thought "MJ comeback" was a veiled reference to the vast quantities of pot being smoked in the NBA. You know, medicinally.

adam kraemer
7.5.01 @ 1:28p

In their defense, when was the last time you heard of a basketball player with glaucoma?

jael mchenry
7.5.01 @ 3:41p

I suppose a referee joke would be in poor taste here.

And being able to intelligently reference Yinka Dare is only one of the things that makes Michelle incredibly cool.

matt morin
7.5.01 @ 3:59p

God help the person whose ONLY redeeming characteristic is correctly using Yinka Dare's name in conversation.

michelle von euw
7.5.01 @ 4:25p

I hate to do this (especially since I butchered the spelling of Michael Olowokandi's name in an earlier post) because this will just affirm that I'm a sports geek to the highest degree, but...isn't it spelled Dwayne Schintzius?

joe procopio
7.5.01 @ 4:36p

Yeah, Michelle? Well, where were you when I made a Michael Jackson/Michael Jackson joke?

matt morin
7.5.01 @ 9:04p

Michelle, if you didn't live in Boston, I'd ask you to marry me.

adam kraemer
7.6.01 @ 9:26a

Oh, Matt, don't let that stop you.

jael mchenry
7.6.01 @ 10:02a

Adam, you troublemaker.

michelle von euw
7.7.01 @ 2:43p

Ok, I need to chime in after reading the article. I would take Shaq, Kobe & Allen today if that means that Nird, MJ and Magic are in the late 30's early 40's, and it would still be close. Total up the titles and awards that each group has won when they retire and tell me who you would actually take when it is all said and done. No knock on Shane either but his upside is very limited. He is the most ready for the NBA as of now but in 5 years he will be a decent player and not a superstar. The NBA needs a minor league in place soon. 75 early entrents actually applied for the draft and 30 may be asking you next week if you want fries with your burger. What are these kids who don't make it (and you will have many) be doing in the future. Most of them will not be able to afford to go back to college (unless it is Clown or Hamburger College)if they never make it or get drafted. The NBA needs to do something fast. I could sit here and name 100 guys who cam

michelle von euw
7.7.01 @ 2:44p

Actually the last message was from Joe and not Michelle, sorry . The computer was loged in under her (lol).

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 10:48a

And I assume you meant "Bird"?

adam kraemer
7.9.01 @ 10:49a

Oh, and why hasn't anyone mentioned my man Wilt? Today, it's impressive when someone gets 12 rebounds in a game - the man averaged over 20. When sports writers complained that he wasn't a team player, he went on to lead the league in assists. And he's the one person on a movie screen who I've ever seen make Schwartzenegger look small.

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