I will be frank with you, I don't really like NCAA basketball. The play is sloppy and execution is haphazard at best. It's designed the way it is partially because of the number of teams, but the game itself is not conducive to development of skill but rather last minute heroics and luck. Everyone that argues that the game is more "pure" because players aren't playing for the money fail to realize money is what almost every single player that makes college basketball enjoyable to watch is playing for. They're jockeying for draft position, because the higher it is, the more money you get. Jesse Blanchard at 48minutesofhell writes in regards to the interesting Spurs draft pick of Cory Joseph in 2011 mostly in regards to how for Cory Joseph, while his game may not have been ready for the NBA, it was better for him to enter the draft because the NCAA would have stunted his basketball growth. I'm going to say it again, NCAA basketball is not good basketball, the tournament and game formats are structured in a way to promote unpredictability, I mean, let's face it, upsets are what make March Madness interesting to most people, because in a single game, anything can happen. That being said, those kind of heroic antics hardly ever translate well into the pros. So let's face it, even if you are the go-to guy on your team, unless you are some sort of otherworldly talent like Kevin Durant, you're not going to be the go-to guy on your NBA team.
But I'm not here to write an extensive bash on the NCAA and how it's a poorly conceived system for growing players into the professional basketball arena. Rather, I'm here to propose an alternative solution. This comes also in the wake of the Olympic games where David Stern has been pressuring FIBA to implement an under 23 years old age limit on eligible participants in Olympic basketball (and likely all subsequent FIBA world tournaments). This is to help owners "protect their players" from injury due to a heavy schedule of playing both in the regular season and in the summer. If implemented, it would be a decidedly economic, unpatriotic move on the part of NBA and its team owners.
My take on it is simple, the only place where Olympic participation can be arguably waning for basketball, would be potentially the USA, but let's be honest, the US could feasibly put out a squad of borderline all-stars and still arguably contend for a gold medal. Granted with the recent development of high caliber talent overseas in countries like Spain, France, Russia, Germany, Argentina, and Brazil, I think the contest would be significantly closer than it was 20 years ago when the Dream Team first took the floor. That being said, there is no other team that could literally boast an essentially All-Star game lineup of Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis (remember this is AFTER Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Blake Griffin, among others had dropped out of the team) on the floor. That being said, while the number of players is growing from overseas, a majority of NBA talent is still from the US. So if Team USA decides that it doesn't want to field older players to help them preserve their professional career, that's USA's prerogative. Owners then have to realize that unlike in the US, representing your national team is kind of a big deal elsewhere, and if other players from other countries want to represent their countries in a global tournament (like the Olympics) then that is simply the risk involved with investing in an international player. Granted the biggest rub may in actuality be the fact that the Olympics make a ton of money off of these players that these owners are already paying for, but I'm not going to get into the greed aspect of basketball here either.
I want to talk about my solution to the above issues that have been brought up: player development, the age rule, and a strictly U23 international basketball representation. Now this is how I believe the US could most effectively handle the situation, but granted, I understand that this probably won't happen because well, frankly it could well mean the death of NCAA basketball, but I believe there may be a way around that as well. Simply put, what if to get in the NBA, there was required of each player "2 years of professional experience"? How do we do that? Well, I believe that for foreign players, that generally isn't an issue, as many of them are playing for professional clubs by around the age of 16 or so. By the time they are draft eligible, you could argue that they have had a certain amount of experience. Of course, you could require 2 years of Euroleague or some professional equivalent of play, provided that it was on an adult men's team rather than a U18 team and such. So on that front, I'm not really concerned at all. Most of our best international players (i.e. the Gasol brothers, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, etc...) have already met this criteria.
Now for the US. How would we handle this? Well we already presumably have a farm system in place, at least that's what the NBDL is supposed to be. What if we used this in conjunction with Team USA basketball to form our solution. What if, prior to entering into the NBA, each player is required to play through a minimum 2 year contract in the D-League? What I would envision is basically prior to becoming eligible for the NBA draft, all prospective players must go through a tryout process, the top 15 players are placed onto the Team USA roster (whereby helping USA meeting the potential 23 and under rule), and are required to play in through at least one of the FIBA nationals tournaments or the Olympics. Granted this is a single tournament, you could feasibly include this team as a team in the D-League, which would play against other D-League teams. Then, Stern would form 3 other non-affiliated D-League teams for the other top 45 players (presumably those that would have been drafted) on restricted 2 year contracts. Any player on this contract can be traded but cannot receive a call up if traded to an affiliate team. After the two year contracts end, all players become eligible for the draft, which would presumably include players who had been playing in Euroleague for the past 2 years. Stern could feasibly raise the age limit to 20 and this would still work.
Why do I think this would be a good idea? Well, first off, it helps develop players, the non-affiliated teams, and even the affiliated D-League teams, would have NBA-caliber coaches, be playing against near-NBA caliber competition, and playing the NBA-style game. This would help players develop their raw talent into skills that would effectively translate into the NBA. Secondly, this also allows for teams to get a better idea of what players would look like in an NBA setting or at least against professional level athletes and athleticism. The main obstacle would presumably be the difference in money, and maybe my perspective is different. While the pay may not be as lucrative as Europe, I am sure Brandon Jennings and Josh Childress can attest to the difficulty of going to Europe to play. Perhaps the NBDL salaries need to be raised somewhat, but gradually moving the players up in salary instead of throwing $5 million at the feet of a 19 year old may be more feasible in expecting them to make good financial decisions. I had a co-worker who also proposed that perhaps colleges can implement a 2-year professional athlete associates degree with classes on money management and such which is required prior to any professional play. I think that's a pretty good idea too, and frankly, something like this may keep the NCAA alive.
The NBA is already the highest caliber of play in the world, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I think something like this could potentially be an effective tool to get the most out of each player.