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NBA could learn from baseball draft

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On Monday, the Major League Baseball draft begins. The lives of hundreds of young amateur players and, hopefully, the fortunes of the major league clubs will improve.

Among the four major sports, baseball’s draft ranks third behind football and basketball in order of media attention. Only hockey receives less.

With the NBA Finals now underway, it is appropriate to point out how the league could learn a few things from baseball in the area of draft eligibility. The “one-and-done” legion of high school basketball phenoms dropping by a major college for one year on their way to the NBA makes a mockery of not only college basketball, but college itself.

Kentucky has turned this into a complete joke. Duke is trying to emulate the Wildcats’ model.

The one-year wonders do not belong in college. They need to be drafted into the NBA after high school and begin their physical and mental development for the rigors of professional basketball.

It used to be that way. LeBron James went straight to the NBA and developed into the best player in the world. Miami and Cleveland will attest to that. Several others took the same route. His teammate on the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving, is an example of the current draft structure.

While basketball has a Developmental League for young players, the colleges are serving an even greater role as an NBA farm system. Baseball, which developed the farm system years ago, does it the right way.

When the baseball draft concludes on Wednesday, high school players will have a choice.

If they are not satisfied with either the team that drafted them, or the money offered to sign, they can enter college. They have their greatest amount of leverage at this time.

Should that player choose not to sign a contract, they can enter college. Once he enters college and joins his college team, he is not again eligible for the draft again until after his junior season or turns 21.

This provides a great deal of stability for college baseball while quality players can develop their skills and actually have some time to learn a few things in class. Now that college baseball’s metal bats are not as lively in years past, the player’s hitting ability is more accurate.

The NBA is quick to blame the players’ union for the inability to return to the era of high school player draft eligibility. Suggestion: When the next collective bargaining agreement comes up in 2017, bargain with the union.

The union will clearly want more money for established players. To help counter that, the league could save some serious cash by drafting a high school graduate than one who earned national recognition by playing at Kentucky or Duke for one highly publicized year.

Who thinks the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis could have commanded anywhere near the same contract coming out of high school in Chicago, as opposed to winning a national championship during one season at Kentucky and having Bradenton’s Dick Vitale go gaga (justifiably) over him every day on ESPN?

Sorry, NBA, but your argument is a flaming red herring.

A good example of how the baseball draft works can be found in Tampa. Plant High School outfielder Kyle Tucker is a “can’t miss” prospect likely to be drafted in the first 10 picks.

If so, he is almost certain to sign a professional contract. If he somehow falls to later picks in the first round or is unsatisfied with the club’s offer, it is possible he could postpone his major league dreams and play for the University of Florida for three years.

While not wishing anything bad for Tucker, Gator coach Kevin O’Sullivan wouldn’t be heartbroken to have Tucker show up in Gainesville this fall as his second choice.

Professional and college basketball would be much better off to follow such a model.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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