Daishen Nix's recent decision to play for the NBA's G League rather than join UCLA and play college basketball next season has been called a possible "sea-change moment" for the sport -- and not in a good way. That after fellow five-star prospect Jalen Green also went the G League route in what one commentator called a "crushing blow" to the college game.
We've heard these cries too often. We heard it 10 years ago when Brandon Jennings opted to play in Italy. We heard it seven years ago when Emmanuel Mudiay decided to play in China instead of at SMU. We heard it most recently last season when RJ Hampton joined the Australian NBL after high school, and Darius Bazely opted to accept a guaranteed $1 million as part of a five-year endorsement deal from New Balance to work as an intern and train for the NBA instead of playing college basketball.
Somehow, despite these well-publicized opt-outs, college basketball has more than managed to survive. Were it not for the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournamentdue to COVID-19, the game would have generated its usual high level of interest. And if anything, the lack of dominant individual players would have been a boon to March Madness, increasing parity in the college game.
I've always felt that playing college basketball is a privilege, not a right. Ideally, one choice is a college experience with (for better or worse) exposure to an education and campus life and benefits including a cost of attendance allowance of several thousand dollars. If a young man chooses this special advantage afforded him because of his skills, then he chooses to play by college basketball's regulations. For myriad reasons, this choice is not for everyone.
For those who wish to experiment and accelerate their exposure to a professional sports life experience, playing in the NBA G League or an international league are alternatives. Both carry risks along with potential rewards.
Ironically, many of the same observers who advocate the pro "pay-for-play" model for college basketball now view the choices by Green, Nix and Isaiah Todd -- another highly-touted high school player -- to sign with the G League as a negative "seismic" shift in the sport.
In reality, their choices -- and those of others who opted not to play college ball in the current environment -- reflect an understanding of the option to pursue a lucrative opportunity and bypass the perceived constricting rules of college basketball.
The college game will be the better for it. The lament that college basketball will suffer is nonsense.