I used to be adamantly opposed to collegiate student-athletes leaving school early for a pro sports draft. I had felt for years that the education was the most important thing, that attaining a college degree was paramount, and that if a student-athlete was good enough, he or she (although this has really only applied to male student-athletes, at least in team sports) would still have the opportunity to earn the millions of dollars available in professional sports. I even thought, and to a large extent still believe, that a student-athlete could better enhance his chances to make a pro sports roster, and to become a star quicker at the next level if he had completed his eligibility with the training and experience secured by playing four years at the collegiate level.
Those answers are not as simple as they once were--or seemed. In the NFL, the implementation of a rookie wage scale made the decision more difficult for the select few who expected to be drafted in the first round, and for those who were expected to be taken near the top of the round, it seemed to answer the question. Take the money now. The degree could wait. Many have followed this path, and for those who spend and invest wisely, the millions earned by signing a big contract may pay the dividends of financial security for a lifetime, diminishing the neccessity of a college degree, at least when it came to needing the sheepskin to land an attractive place in an overcrowded job market. Even in basketball, some of the decisions were more obvious. When Kevin Durant left the University of Texas after his freshman season, there were few who thought he was making the wrong move. As time has gone on, KD's decision has more than proven to be the correct one. Not only did he go high in the draft (#2 overall, and with Greg Oden's career seemingly at an end, the Portland Trail Blazers are now wishing they had drafted him #1 overall); his second contract signed a year ago--the contract where the real money is made--is now secure. Not only does Durant have his financial security, he has proven to still be of major value to the Texas Longhorn basketball program. He returns to Austin each summer and works out individually with current Longhorn basketball players while continuing to work on attaining his degree. It's an important win-win scenario, both for KD and UT.
But it's the tweeners who have the most difficult decisions to make. Those individuals--and there are many more of those out there than the elite athletes--have to weigh the possibility of missing out on possible future millions by returning to school, leaving several questions unanswered. What happens if a major injury occurs in that next year in college, endangering draft possibilities? And can you really improve your draft stock by returning? There are those scouts who believe Baylor center Perry Jones III actually damaged his draft position by returning for his sophomore season. Yet examples like that of Jones, if that does prove to be the case, are really more the exception rather than the rule. The consensus of of nearly everyone with an educated opinion on the NBA is that Texas guard Myck Kabongo did the right thing by announcing he'll return for his sophomore season. Most of those same opinions say that a return for his senior season would improve the possibility of J'Covan Brown even being drafted, let alone being taken in the first round where the contract dollars are guaranteed. J'Covan's case is a bit more complex. He has a daughter and other family members that need financial help. The question is whether one more season at Texas, where Brown could make a major impact on his draft status, not to mention the success of the Longhorn basketball team, will severely impact the help he could give to his family--that is, if the financial help is there for him at all. To say Brown will be taking a gamble to enter his name into the NBA Draft is, at the least, accurate, and at the most, an understatement.
J'Covan Brown's decision is a tough call, and there are others in similar predicaments in college basketball. For their sake, as well as for the programs they are considering leaving, one can only hope the right call is made.