Soon to be millionaires, teen-agers Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith are failures of a sort.
Two of the more than a dozen “one and dones” projected to go in the first round of the NBA draft this year, neither Fultz nor Smith could carry their teams into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Gonzaga non-starter Zach Collins is the only one among the large group of soon-to-be-wealthy freshmen that played on a Final Four team.
Somebody shared that six seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores, and two freshmen started in the NCAA semifinal games — a small victory for those of us who despise the rule that prohibits a basketball player under 19 from playing in the NBA and results in the one and dones. Even though the Major League Baseball draft can wreak havoc with recruiting as Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn can attest, the sport has it right. An athlete can sign out of high school or play college ball for three years to improve his draft status.
Like baseball players, basketball participants are capable of competing out of high school. But, because of the rule, those expected to be the first eight selected in the June draft spent the year in college.
Football is different. In particular, a lineman just out of high school is overmatched against an opponent who has spent three years in a college weight room much less played in the NFL.
Criticism of the basketball rule does not extend to Kentucky coach John Calipari or UCLA coach Steve Alford or Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski or any of the others who sign 18-year-olds believing they can extract one great season before the young man moves on. They simply take advantage of the rules.
But, even a superb player needs a supporting cast.
No. 1 in several mock drafts, Washington’s Fultz averaged 23 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 35.7 minutes per game, plus shot .476 from the field, including .413 from 3-point range. Fun to watch, I suppose, but the Huskies were 9-22.
North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith is a top five pick, according to analysts from CBSSports.com and ESPN. Smith averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists, and shot .455 from the field for a 15-17 team.
Nobody can blame athletes for bolting for bucks after two semesters. First-round picks can sign for as much as 120 percent of the rookie scale and the base figure for the No. 1 pick this year is $5,091,500. For the last pick in the first round, the number is $1,010,500.
Washington and North Carolina State had the worst records of teams with freshmen projected in the first round, but Creighton with Justin Patton lost its first game in the NCAA Tournament while Florida State, Michigan State, and Duke lost their second tournament game with a freshman projected as a first-round pick.
Arizona, with one first-round freshman, won two games in the Tournament, same as UCLA with two freshmen slotted for the first round. Kentucky won three games with Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Edrice Adebayo as did Kansas with Josh Jackson.
The highest ranked non-freshman draft prospect in the NCAA title game was North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, a junior and one of the team’s five McDonalds All-Americans.
Last year, both Kentucky and Washington had two of the 10 freshmen selected in the draft’s first round. None of the 10 played for Final Four teams.
In the first round of the 2015 NBA draft, 13 freshmen were selected and there would have been 14 except Emmanuel Mudiay reneged on SMU and made a sensible decision to play a year in China before being drafted seventh.
On occasion, the No. 1 recruiting class forms the No. 1 team. Duke’s 2015 NCAA championship team included freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, picked third, 10th, and 24th in the NBA draft.
More power to the one-and-done athletes, but rooting against their teams is embraced during the NCAA Tournament.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: email@example.com