Josh Selby story exposes one-and-done
If I were NCAA president Mark Emmert, I'd overnight a manila folder to David Stern labeled "Josh Selby."
The young man's dossier would contain every example of what is wrong with the draft age minimum in Stern's National Basketball Association, and how it undermines the mission of higher education.
Because Selby could not be drafted out of high school, he was forced to go to college. He attended Kansas. He played 26 games, scoring his career high in the first game and scoring in single digits (or not at all) in the final 13. He was ineligible to start the season, injured during it and ineffective by the end of it.
He left Lawrence for Las Vegas shortly after the Jayhawks' season ended to work out in preparation for the draft. He did not attend the team banquet and will not return to class this semester.
It was, all things considered, a failure for every involved party. But the purpose here is not to rip Selby or Kansas. It's to rip the system.
The only reason Josh Selby was ever a college student was because the NBA's age minimum of 19 forced him to be one. According to media reports, he spent time in high school driving an acquaintance's Mercedes-Benz -- and he'll be able to get his own Benz soon enough. But in between he had to go through the mandated higher-education charade.
And now it's highly likely that Selby will be drafted lower this year than he would have been last June.
Let's face it: The past year was largely a waste of Selby's time and KU's effort. The school's basketball staff, academic support staff and compliance staff spent an enormous amount of manpower on getting the guard from Baltimore eligible. Part of it was an undertaking to determine his amateur status, but a bigger part was fighting for his academic credentials to be accepted.
"It was a full-time job for a period of time," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But it was worth it, because the right thing occurred. We believed he was a qualifier. It would have been an absolute shame if he didn't play college basketball because we didn't fight for him."
Despite the length of the fight and the brevity of the stay, Self declared it time well spent.
"I'd do the exact same thing all over again," he said. "No question."
In Self's mind, this was largely an exercise in bad luck. Selby, he said, never had a chance to shine at Kansas.
"Josh dealt with more crap than any other freshman I've been around," Self said.
He broke his hand shortly after arriving in Lawrence last summer. Then, after starting practice with the team, he became entangled in a protracted eligibility struggle that dragged on nearly forever. When it was finally settled, Selby was docked nine games and made to sit out 10 practices to make up for ones he'd participated in while technically ineligible.
When he finally took the court Dec. 18 against USC, Selby delivered 21 points and five rebounds -- and he played well through Feb. 1, averaging 12 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
But it was all downhill from there. A stress reaction in his right foot put him on the sideline for three games, and after coming back Selby was nothing more than a single-digit spare part.
He averaged fewer than four points in KU's final 13 games and never once shot 50 percent from the field. Selby lost minutes, lost confidence and lost his shooting touch. He finished his college career with a 7.9 ppg average on 37 percent shooting.
Still, the kid was set on testing the waters. He grew up in a stereotypical urban nightmare -- violence, drugs, poverty, an unstable family situation and academic struggle was his childhood context. Nobody can blame Selby for jumping at the first available chance at a better life.
So after spending time in Vegas working out, Selby was set to go pro. There has been no looking back. He still hasn't returned to Lawrence and still hasn't talked to Self, although the coach said he has spoken several times with Selby's mother.
Selby's failure to finish the spring semester should theoretically hurt the program's Academic Progress Rating, but Self was quoted as saying at the time of Selby's announcement that he "worked with his professors to complete his work for the second semester."
If that's true -- that a borderline student out of high school was able to finish his semester's work weeks ahead of time without attending class -- then every degree the school has ever granted has been cheapened. But that's just part of what makes the Selby story a sorry one.
"It did not play out real great for Josh, but it wasn't because he wasn't good enough or didn't try hard enough or didn't fit in," Self said. "It was because of health. After he got hurt, he could have just put it in park and not played. But he wanted to play even though he wasn't 100 percent.
"If he's healthy and averages 18 points a game, we're not even having this conversation."
That's true, because then Selby probably would be drafted in the lottery -- where he likely would have been taken last year out of high school. But that was never an option, necessitating a charade of a year in college.
Self said the so-called one-and-done rule is "a bad rule." Like most other logical basketball people, he'd prefer a set-up similar to the baseball rules, which allow players to sign pro contracts out of high school -- but if they go to college, they're committed for three seasons.
I'd take the baseball analogy a step further: The NBA needs to make its Developmental League a truly viable and encouraged option -- a real minor league like baseball has -- for teenagers who want to play pro ball but don't want to go to college. The NBA owes that much to all interested parties.
Spare the schools from enabling a sham that makes a mockery of education. Spare the franchises from babysitting unprepared and/or immature teenagers. And spare the fans from being force-fed the big lie.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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