Missouri junior shooting guard Jabari Brown basically had three weeks to make one of the most important decisions of his life.
The NBA Draft remains more than 70 days away, but Brown — and every other college basketball player who declared for the draft but held off signing with an agent — had to decide by Tuesday if he wanted to stay in the draft or return to school.
“It’s a dumb rule,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “It’s a terrible rule for student-athletes. It benefits the best programs in the country, but it’s a terrible rule for somebody like Jabari. He’s forced to make a very important decision in a very short amount of time.”
To be clear, it’s not the NBA’s rule. It allows players to withdraw until 10 days before the draft, which is June 26 this year.
However, the NCAA changed its eligibility rules in August 2009, requiring players to decide by May 8 whether to remain in the draft or lose all future college eligibility.
Two years later, the rule was amended again. Players now have to decide by the day before the spring signing period, which begins April 16 and continues through May 21 for Division I basketball this year.
The effect is that, rather than spending a month working out for NBA teams and receiving a thorough examination, Brown’s decision will be based primarily on scouting reports prepared by NBA executives.
“Ask any of those guys going through this process and I believe they would tell you that some extra time between the end of the college season and that April 15 deadline would be beneficial,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Scouts see you all season long and you are able to get some feedback, but as a player, you would like to have more.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, with the backing of the Atlantic Coast Conference, led the charge in 2009 to change the rule. Having scholarship players’ futures in limbo through mid-June — and past the end of the NCAA’s spring signing period — painted many programs into a corner.
Now, though, the pendulum has swung from putting a burden on programs trying to build a roster to undercutting the evaluation process for draft prospects.
“There was a time, and it wasn’t too long ago, that kids who were projected as lottery picks would think in terms of putting their name in the draft,” said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “Being a lottery pick conjured up a career in the NBA.”
However, the landscape has shifted.
“Things started changing and the defining line was, ‘Well, you’re going to be a first-rounder,’ but we now see kids make a decision to be a second-round pick,” Haney said.
Being a second-round pick can be a dangerous proposition. Contracts aren’t guaranteed, which greatly reduces the team’s investment. Many second-round picks wind up in the NBA Development League or playing overseas.
“(Brown’s) a guy who, instead of being a potential All-American next year, he could up going in the middle of the second round,” Fraschilla said. “The next you know, you hear about him playing for the Maine Red Claws. … I think he’s going to play in the NBA someday, but there’s a difference between playing in the NBA and becoming a true NBA player — a guy who stays in the league for 10 or 12 years.”
Brown, who is expected to remain in the draft, led Missouri and the SEC in scoring at 19.9 points per game last season, but at 6 feet, 5 inches he’s roughly average size for an NBA shooting guard and possesses below-average defensive and ball-handling skills.
Under the current NCAA rules, Brown’s opportunities for an up close-and-personal evaluation by NBA teams is limited.
“Jabari is ready for that next step,” Haith said. “He has a pro’s approach and work ethic right now. An NBA organization is going to be getting a great player and a terrific teammate and person.”
Still, it’s a gamble, because most observers peg Brown for the middle of the second round. He would benefit greatly from an extra month immersed in the evaluation process.
“At the end of the day, and certainly this is true of collegiate basketball coaches, you just want the student-athlete to make a good decision,” Haney said. “And you can’t make good decisions without good information.”
Haney said the rule’s intent was fine, but that it hasn’t worked well in practice.
“I think there is a general consensus among all those who are confronted with players leaving early that we need to rethink what the dates are,” Haney said. “I don’t think anybody’s casting blame, but probably more coaches now think it creates undue pressure and forces kids into making a decision before they really have time to acquire more knowledge about where they might fall in the draft.”
Haney expects the rule to be adjusted again — perhaps as soon as before next year’s draft.
“There has to be some type of middle ground, where you allow the kids the opportunity to go and explore and do workouts but without it affecting the late signing period,” Haith said. “That way both parties can be more satisfied.”