Archive for Sunday, April 14, 2002

NBA age limit would help players, programs

April 14, 2002

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The National Basketball Assn. probably never will go back to the draft plan that forced Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain to play a season with the Harlem Globetrotters (1958-59). But it would help everyone immensely by adopting a recent proposal by Tom McMillen, onetime Maryland All-American and, at 6-foot-11, a former very lofty member of Congress.

McMillen, a 1972 U.S. Olympian, had a number of sound suggestions for the NCAA and NBA. The one I liked best was an age-20 level before the pros could put a kid on a roster.

That would be good for the colleges which provide the mindless pros an invaluable farm system free of charge. A coach could be pretty sure of having a youngster two years unless the fourth grade happened to be the best three years of a coddled jock's academically dubious life.

Youngsters could get at least a couple of years of college, might even like it well enough to stay three or four, (gasp!) even get a degree. If they couldn't qualify at a Big 12-type school they could apprentice in junior college. They could mature mentally and physically far beyond most fresh-from-high school kidnappees do today. If some hot-shot wasn't scholastically inclined, he could play minor league ball or hook on with some European entity.

Wonder of wonders, the NBA might even benefit by getting a more refined talent that just might make enough of a name for himself to sell a few tickets.

I can't stress this enough: The NBA and the football pros have a genie in the jug with the stopper in their hand. They let the colleges develop kids at no expense to them, then grab them early, a la Kansas' Drew Gooden. NBA greed approaches the obscene stage when they snatch high schoolers.

How could making the pros wait at least two years to induce child labor do anything but help? It might allow college coaches a better chance to build programs by counting on pro prospects for at least two seasons, then finding good junior college kids to step in.

It's amazing how many people don't know that Chamberlain had to play for the Trotters in 1958-59 because that theoretically would have been his "senior" year at KU. The NBA rule said no team could have a kid until his four-year college class period had expired. Since Wilt was a freshman in 1955-56, the NBA had to wait as teams would do with an age-20 limit.

Of course, Chamberlain's initial NBA future was pre-ordained. Visionary Eddie Gottlieb of the Philadelphia Warriors wangled territorial draft rights to Wilt when Uncle Dippy was a Philly Overbrook prep. That meant that when he was available after the 1959 season, the Warriors could claim him. Which they did, and eventually won an NBA title because of it.

Wilt could have turned pro right out of high school. And could have put most modern dandies to shame because of his immense skills and ability. Imagine how quickly he'd be grabbed up today. The pros didn't think in the same heinous ways then. Money wasn't so incredible, thus Kansas got a freshman and two varsity seasons from Chamberlain.

Fed up with clogging defenses, a lifestyle unsuited to his nifty tastes and sexual appetite, and lured by a massive $80,000 offer from Globetrotter boss Abe Saperstein, Wilt left. Add a $10,000 bonus from Look Magazine for an exclusive story on why he was leaving Kansas early; in 1959 you were looking at major bucks. There soon were dandy endorsements that let Chamberlain reach millionaire status quickly in an age when that really meant something for jocks.

Many at KU felt betrayed by Wilt for some time. That changed as the pros began corraling guys early, like our own Norm Cook. Moses Malone and Big Daddy Darryl Dawkins went immediately into NBA harness. Wilt was welcomed home as he deserved to be in 1998. Paul Pierce and Gooden are missed but not crucified with their early outs.

Still, college coaches much prefer guys who'll give them the full four years. Like Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Ryan Robertson, Jeff Boschee, Scot Pollard, Steve Woodbery, Richard Scott, Danny Manning, Chris Piper, Adonis Jordan, Kevin Pritchard, Milt Newton you know the drill. You can build and persist on the stability of such people.

As for Gooden, I understand Roy Williams' loyalty and appreciation in wanting that "0" jersey hanging from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters. Drew was a first-team All-American and a co-player of the year in one poll. But I could name 10 guys right away whose shirts should dangle there much sooner.

Blindly loyal 2002 fans will screech to high heaven, but Gooden needs to wait a while. KU has been disgustingly remiss in not getting the fabulous Fred Pralle's jersey in the rafters. Guys like Dick Harp, Bobby Allen, Clint Kanaga and a lot of other tremendous sources tried so hard for a truly deserving superstar; reluctant athletic director Bob Frederick flat-out blew it. Never showed the necessary Fred Fever.

The saddest aspect is that the Pralle jersey could have been up for him to see and enjoy (and, oh, how he would have!) while back for the 1998 centennial events. But KU continued to putz and pussyfoot around, Fred died and still nothing has been done. I know many who consider that an absolute disgrace.

Drew Gooden alongside Wilt, Lovellette, Born, the Charlie Blacks, Endacott, Evans, Manning, Woodard? Not yet. Too much, too soon. What about others like Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Ralph Miller, hall of famers like that?

Gooden's been good but not THAT great. Lots of folks should go up much sooner, then maybe some day .

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