The great myth of our program

As most of you are now aware, I don’t believe in the one-and-done rule. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the student-athletes, the NCAA or the NBA. I personally think kids should have to stay two or three years.

On Monday, speaking on a teleconference with our league’s media, I told reporters I supported one of my kid’s decision to stay in school so long as he thought through his decision and had a good reason. Since then, it’s come to my understanding that people are now portraying this program as a one-and-done factory, that we allow players to come here for one year and then move them on to the NBA.

Big Blue Nation, that couldn’t be more wrong.

We have the highest Academic Progress Rate in the Southeastern Conference. We’ve graduated the seniors that have stayed and gone through the program. On Thursday, Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas will celebrate Senior Night, and later this semester, they’ll walk across that stage – on time – with a degree in their hands.

But every kid is on a different timetable, and when I coach young people, it’s not about me. It’s about them. We’re not doing anything that’s unethical, illegal, immoral or against any rules. There is a rule that needs to be changed, and if that rule doesn’t change, my only two options are recruiting players that aren’t good enough or convincing young people to put their dreams aside because the university and our basketball program are more important than their dreams.

Which would you rather me do?

Understand, we don’t recruit a young player saying that there is no question he’s a one-and-done player. We don’t know! Are you telling me that we knew Eric Bledsoe had a chance out of high school to go in the first round after one year? If they tell you that, they’re lying. Those same people also said our three freshman starters from last season would leave after one year. Two came back because they wanted to win a national championship and the other one that left had a 4.0 grade-point average and 60 credit hours.

I tell every player that we recruit that I don’t have a magic wand. At the end of the year, we’ll see where everything is, we’ll give you the information, and you and your family make a choice to stay or come back. I would love to coach all of these guys for four years and have them earn a college degree in four years, but if they have an opportunity to reach their dreams, I will not be the person to hold them back, nor will I let anybody at this university or in my program do it.

Do you have a problem if the tennis player or golfer makes the same decision? Do you have a problem that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs left early and decided to chase their dreams? Well, if my players are ready, they shouldn’t go?

Not only are our players going to the league, they’re having success in the league, which means they were ready to go. If you watched the NBA All-Star game, we had three players in the Rising Stars Challenge. No other school had more than one.

Now people may not agree with me, and I respect that, but here are the reasons that I’m doing what I’m doing.

What if I convinced a young man, whether that’s your son or someone else, to stay in school and put his dreams aside and then he got hurt? What if I said, you can play in the NBA later, get your education now, and then he tears up his knee and never achieves the greatness he was looking for? Would you be OK with that?

What’s wrong with what John Wall is doing, what Rajon Rondo is doing and what Wayne Turner did by coming back to school later to get their degrees? They are living their dreams now and are coming back to get their degrees. Why is that a problem? Is that a problem with golfers and tennis players? Or is it just the basketball players?

If you want to know why I told one of my kids he needed to give me  a good reason to come back to school, look at Patrick Patterson. I told Patrick, “Give me three good reasons you want to come back because right now you’re going to be picked anywhere from 18 to 25. Patrick said, “I’m going to get my degree, I need to improve my game and move it more on the perimeter, and I’ve never played in an NCAA Tournament game and I want to do that.” He gave me three great answers and I said let’s get after this.

If a young man tells me I’m not emotionally ready for this, which Marcus Camby told me after his sophomore year when we were at UMass, that’s fine, then come back. I don’t chase kids out, but I make them think through why they want to do what they want to do. They’re not just going to say I’m leaving or I’m staying. They’ve got to talk to me about it. I don’t hold kids back just so I can win more games or so our fan base can enjoy more wins. It’s not about that.

During the season, it’s about our team, which is why we’re the most efficient team in the country and have been in the top 10 in efficiency, offensively and defensively, the last seven years. The minute the season ends, it’s about each individual player.

Again, the current rule is not my rule and it’s certainly not a good rule. There is only one way to change it: Get with Billy Hunter and the NBA Players Association. They have the ability to change it. No one else does. Meeting with the NBA or the NCAA or the coaches does nothing. Billy Hunter is the only person who can represent the college players and can get it done.

And if I was at the table negotiating, here is what I would say:

  1. These kids get a stipend – and more than $2,000.
  2. Their insurance, which they have to pay for right now, would be covered by either the universities or the NCAA. (Update: To clarify, I am talking about the NCAA’s Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program.)
  3. If they do stay in school, their families get to tap into a loan program after the first year that is capped.
  4. Lastly, on the NBA side, if a young man stays in school, he can renegotiate his rookie deal faster than someone who comes out sooner, plus the pay scale goes up the longer he stays in school.

Now you’re negotiating instead of just telling a kid to do what’s right for us and forget about what you want to do.

But until that happens, if you want these kids to be about this team, this program and this university while they’re playing here, then we’ve got to give them time to think about it when the season is over. If one of our kids wants to say he’s coming back next year and the year after that and even the year after that, that’s fine – I’m not going to stop him. But I am going to make sure he’s thought about the reasons. Right now, our focus is on getting better and trying to win a national title. We’ll focus on individuals once our season is complete.