Friday, March 29, junior forward Nathan Knight of William and Mary’s men’s basketball team announced that he was declaring for the National Basketball Association draft. Knight still has one season of eligibility remaining as a National Collegiate Athletic Association player, but NCAA athletes can declare for the NBA draft after at least one season in college.
Several years ago, Knight would have been less likely to make this decision, but a 2016 adaptation in NCAA rules for the NBA draft allows underclassmen to declare for the draft and withdraw by a certain deadline if they decide that they want to return to college. Previously this deadline was in April, but now it is much later in May. This gives Knight a chance to gauge his likelihood of getting drafted in 2019, while not automatically forfeiting his college eligibility. Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman also declared for the draft following his junior season in 2018, but ultimately decided to return to school, where he led the Pride to a CAA regular season championship and was named conference player of the year for the second-straight season.
This year, the NBA draft combine is from May 14 to May 19 in Chicago. At the combine, players who have declared for the draft complete various exercises and drills in an effort to showcase their talent and raise their draft stock. Furthermore, potential draftees can work out for specific teams in the weeks leading up to the draft. At these workouts, teams have the opportunity to talk with players they are interested in selecting and also put them through a workout to get a further look at their skillset. Since Knight and other players with NCAA eligibility have the option to return to school under current NCAA rules, they can participate in this process relatively risk-free. If they perform well at the combine and at individual workouts, and believe that they will get drafted and would not improve their draft stock much by returning to school, they can decide to stay in the draft. If not, they have the option to pull out of the draft and return to school.
In Knight’s case, he has the potential to impress scouts and get drafted late in the second round of the NBA draft. In the draft, there are a total of 60 picks, with two rounds of 30 picks. It is highly likely that Knight will end up returning to school. His draft stock could benefit from another college season and make it more likely that he is drafted earlier in 2020. However, if Knight can get drafted this year, he should take the opportunity to jumpstart his professional career. Due to the recent firing of head coach Tony Shaver and subsequent transfers by the entire starting lineup, Knight might choose to transfer to another school even if he does return to college.
While I believe pushing back the withdrawal date is a good rule change that is more beneficial for young athletes, the NCAA could be doing a lot more to support college athletes. In recent years, there have been intensified debates over paying college athletes. The NCAA should pay athletes, especially if they mandate that they have to spend a certain amount of time in college athletics. While the NCAA has remained staunchly opposed to this, there are still ways that they could change their rules and regulations in order to set athletes up for success in college and in their futures. For example, they could ease up on rules and regulations that are usually detrimental to its athletes, who contribute to the NCAA’s billion-dollar revenue each year. Instead, the NCAA limits athletes’ options, and proves that they care much more about their revenue, rather than what is best for young athletes.
Many college athletes who have the potential to play professionally have to delay that decision due to NCAA regulations. In 2006, the NBA made rule changes that required athletes to be 19 before entering the draft, preventing high school superstars from declaring for the draft without going through the college recruitment process. By going along with these restrictions, the NCAA is also exploiting athletes by limiting their decisions. If an athlete has the ability to go straight to the NBA like LeBron James did in 2003, they should be able to do this. This ensures that they get a contract and sets them and their family up with financial stability for generations to come. Forcing athletes to play in college gives them the opportunity to sustain a career-ending injury or have their draft stock plummet, thus changing the course of their career.
While the current rules for entering the draft early are far from perfect, recent rule changes have been encouraging and allow athletes like Knight to make the most of their NBA potential and explore all of their options. Eventually, the “one and done” rule should be abolished, and high schoolers should be eligible to enter the draft immediately. For the time being though, I am glad that athletes are being granted more autonomy. I wish Knight and other early entrants into the NBA draft the best and hope that this process becomes less complicated and restrictive in the future for athletes looking to make it in the NBA and other professional sports leagues.