Let's be done with one-and-done
Lance Stephenson's recruitment further illustrates why NBA's age rule must go
According to Rucker Park lore, Lance Stephenson got his nickname from a courtside announcer at the famed Harlem playground.
After seeing Stephenson precociously hold his own early in his high school career against college and pro players, the announcer christened him "Born Ready."
That moniker became tattooed on Stephenson's biceps and attached to an online reality series starring the Coney Island product. But it has since proven ironic.
Under current NBA draft rules, even Born Ready is deemed unready to play for pay in America.
"I don't think there's any question that if there weren't this age limit, he'd get taken in this draft," said SportsNet New York basketball writer Adam Zagoria, who has followed Stephenson's career for two years. "It's his dream to play in the NBA."
But there is this age limit -- the one that says the NBA cannot employ a player until he is 19, or one year after his original high school class has graduated. That age limit will keep Stephenson from hearing his name called Thursday night when the NBA holds its annual draft.
That age limit has gone from boon to bust for college basketball.
It put Greg Oden and Kevin Durant on campus and in college uniforms for one season, and that was fun. But it also pushed O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose into situations they seemingly had no interest in, resulting in ongoing scandals at USC and Memphis.
It has forced non-students and pseudo-professionals to feign scholarship and amateurism for one season on campus, cheapening the college experience in general and college basketball specifically.
"The reality is, basketball is their career and their business," said New York Panthers AAU coach Gary Charles, who has coached Stephenson on occasion and seen his rise through the ranks. "In the real world, if someone wants to work at 18, they can do it.
"All of us know which kids are only going to do a year [of college]. If they pass the first semester, they don't really have to do anything in the second semester. I think 98 percent of kids should go to college, but the ones ready to go, let 'em go. Let's just stop the fallacy."
The college game has a better product by having these guys for a season, but the collateral damage is significant. One-and-done college players are capable of more harm than good.
To believe otherwise is to steep yourself in denial.
For instance, you must convince yourself that it's perfectly normal for a player from Washington, D.C., to show up in Manhattan, Kan., with his entire family in tow for a single year (see: Michael Beasley). Or for a player to arrive in Memphis from Philadelphia with his own strength coach added to the coaching staff (see: Tyreke Evans) for a single year. Or for a player to be altruistically guided by an AAU coach who is a former certified NBA agent (see: John Wall).
The Other View: Add Another Year
The one-and-done rule can't be blamed for everything. It's simply a convienent excuse. If anything, the NBA should impose a "two-and-done" minimum, writes Marc Stein.
You must believe that a kid who has been treated as a money-making commodity since seventh grade is suddenly going to resist thousands of dollars of cash and gifts for one pristine year on campus (ask USC how that allegedly worked out with Mayo). You must believe that a kid who only wants to dribble his way to a paycheck is going to take his college entrance exams seriously, or take them at all (the alleged infraction by Rose at Memphis).
"It's pathetic and ludicrous that we're bringing O.J. Mayo into school," said Ohio University professor David Ridpath, a member of The Drake Group, which promotes an ambitious agenda for college sports reform. "He doesn't want to and shouldn't have to be there.
"The NBA and NFL should take on the responsibility of a developmental system. If a kid wants to try to play [professionally] at 16, who are we supposed to be to prevent him? These kids should be able to pursue a career wherever they want to. If they fail, that's life."
Lance Stephenson does not believe he will fail. Neither does Renardo Sidney, currently on campus at Mississippi State. These guys are in the next wave of potential one-and-done players but the path to a college uniform is growing more perilous.
Sidney is in the midst of what could be a protracted eligibility process. He moved from Mississippi to Los Angeles to enter the youth basketball fast lane years ago, culminating in a verbal commitment to USC last February. Then, depending on whose story you believe, either Sidney voluntarily de-committed or USC joined UCLA in backing away from Sidney because of concerns about his amateur status.
For Stephenson, the road to college is even more complicated. Despite being a McDonald's All-American, the all-time leading scorer in New York City high school history and by acclamation one of the 15 best seniors in the nation, his recruitment is at a standstill.
There are amateurism concerns: Did Stephenson and his family benefit financially from the "Born Ready" reality show, or from shoe-company sponsorships of his teams? There are legal concerns: Stephenson has a June 29 court date for allegedly fondling a 17-year-old girl at his high school. There are academic concerns: Sources said his transcript has been kept from most, if not all, college recruiters. And there are attitude concerns: Stephenson is combustible on the court and was surprisingly cut from the USA Basketball Under-19 team last summer, at least in part because of his demeanor toward teammates and coaches.
Sources close to the situation said Stephenson's father, Lance Sr., won't return any college's phone calls, and that most schools have stopped calling. Zagoria reported this week that Memphis might be the only school still in the picture, but even that remains unclear.
Europe has become an option for some seeking to circumvent the one year of indentured collegiate servitude. Brandon Jennings spent this past season in Italy and is expected to be a first-round pick this week. Jeremy Tyler of San Diego is planning to skip his senior year of high school and his would-be freshman year of college to play overseas as well.
Both of those players were guided in their decision by the godfather of shoe-company basketball, Sonny Vaccaro. He's reportedly been asked to advise Stephenson as well and has counseled him against going to Europe.
"He's got enough troubles here in Brooklyn," Zagoria said. "I can't see him going to Italy, France or Israel."
So it's possible that Stephenson could remain adrift for a full year, a bona fide talent without a home.
"I've been following this for two years," Zagoria said, "and I'm utterly fascinated to see how it finishes."
It should finish Thursday with Lance Stephenson's going pro.
But it won't.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.