Thursday, June 24, 2010

Latavious Williams Defines 2010 NBA Draft

So there are a couple of intriguing storylines heading into Thursday's NBA Draft: Wall to my Wiz... Cousins vs. Favors... Gordon Hayward as Top 10 pick?

But, for me, the most intriguing storyline is Latavious Williams, who skipped college basketball to play in the D-League for the one-year moratorium the NBA put on his draft eligibility.

I posted about him last year: He became the first high school player to jump from prep-to-pros domestically since the NBA raised the age-limit. Williams went from high school to the D-League.

And I think he represents a huge future, as long as the NBA continues to insist that NBA-worthy high school players put in at least a year of college.

I have argued this before, and it is pretty simple: If your goal is to be a professional basketball player, you will get better training -- perhaps far better training -- for your career playing pro basketball in the D-league than you will in college basketball, particularly if you're only spending a year.

You will get pro coaching. You will get used to the pro lifestyle. You will be tracked by NBA scouts. The league's mandate is to position you to get to the NBA.

College basketball's mandate is not to get its players to the NBA. And any coach who says that is their goal is forgetting that their own job security comes first. (Nevermind that any college coach who says his No. 1 goal is to get his players to the pros shouldn't be a college coach.)

Let me put this simply: Even if he is "only" a 2nd-round pick, Latavious Williams is better off for having played a year in the D-League than playing a year in college basketball. Undoubtedly, his draft stock would not be as high as it is now. He wouldn't be close to being ready.

(By the way, this also goes for him going straight to the NBA Draft out of high school; he is better off with a mandatory year in the D-League before draft eligibility, which bridges the gap for me between hating the age limit and wanting to see enhanced pre-draft player development.)

Consider the slew of early-entry college players -- not to mention four-year college players -- who will be drafted after Williams (if they are drafted at all).

Then consider whether they would be closer to their goal of playing professionally if they had -- say -- decided to play professionally from the start.

This is beyond Brandon Jennings spending his one-and-done year in Europe, then showing up for the NBA far more mentally and physically prepared than any college player. This is about shifting the main framework of prep-to-pro player development from college to a domestic pro league.

Here's to many more high school players following the positive experience Williams had in the D-League and following him there.

Let's replace "one-and-done" with "one-and-development."

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I wrote a draft of this yesterday, the New York Times' inimitable college sports reporter Pete Thamel published a story yesterday about Williams. Obviously, it isn't as strident as my position -- but if you read between the lines, it should serve as primary support for my argument.

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