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Skal Labissiere and the One-And-Done Rule

4 Feb

basketball - skal labissiere03

The One-And-Done Rule has been both controversial and incendiary in college basketball and professional basketball since its inception in 2006. It is inherently biased against black athletes because the rule stops them from realizing their full earning potential, it is detrimental to the overall level of play in the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball and in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and it simultaneously hinders the improvement of young players while forcing NBA general managers to continuously waste valuable draft picks on the “potential” of star athletes rather than choosing athletes based on their actual production. And, forcing high school players to be one year removed from their high school careers before being deemed eligible for the NBA Draft has had at least one other unintended affect on the game of basketball. The One-And-Done rule has effectively slowed down or ruined the basketball careers of a significant number of the players who are forced to play college ball.

In college basketball, the head coach has complete autonomy in decision-making, and though star athletes still decide which programs become successful and if those teams will remain relevant over the years, college programs are defined by the efficacy of the men that they choose to lead their teams. Duke basketball pushed numerous stars into the league like Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, and Kyrie Irving, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Coach K, defines the program. Bobby Knight taught and developed NBA greats like Scott May and Isiah Thomas, and the current roster of players under new head coach Tom Crean have returned the program to the national spotlight, however basketball at the University of Indiana is defined by the legacy of Knight. Similarly, the University of North Carolina is now run by Roy Williams, but was built by Dean Smith. And, despite another Hall of Fame coach and several Hall of Fame basketball stars coming from the campus, including possibly the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, images of the University inevitably turn to the memory of Dean Smith. The head coach makes the college basketball team what it is. But, the power that these coaches wield often stifles the progress of their college athletes. Freshmen languished on the bench under the tutelage of Dean Smith at North Carolina. He almost never played his freshman, even when their names were Michael Jordan or James Worthy. Bobby Knight was notoriously hard on his players, and though some of those Indiana players flourished under his strict discipline, some of them crumbled under the pressure. And, Coach K has stifled his players for decades in Durham. These coaches value their system over any one player regardless of how talented that player may be. Their disregard for the players serves their legacy, but it devalues the student-athletes and robs the professional ranks of polished talent. Basketball players at programs like these do not get the personal attention or the game-time minutes on college courts that they need to become better basketball players, and therefore they never develop the skills that they need to reach the pros. The One-And-Done rule forces kids into college settings that hinder their evolution into better athletes.

Skal Labissiere, a freshman at the University of Kentucky who is currently playing for future Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari, represents the perfect example of how college coaches interfere with the natural development of their basketball players. Labissiere is a fluid, athletic big man with quick feet and good coordination, a rarity in college basketball. He moves incredibly well for a man his size, is explosive off the floor, has good quickness and instincts on offense and defense, and has shown soft hands around the basket. At 7′ with a 7’2″ wingspan, he has a good basic understanding of interior footwork, a soft touch on his shots out to midrange, and the only real drawback on him from a scout’s point of view is he needs to add bulk to his 225 lb. frame. In 2015, at the NBA Combine held at the University of Kentucky, Labissiere scored nearly identical athletic measurements to Amaré Stoudemire, a super athletic power forward who jumped from high school to the NBA in 2002. Stoudemire overpowered and outjumped NBA competition on the way to a Rookie of the Year award and several All-Star appearances before injuries slowed him down, so Skal should be annihilating less talented college centers. He entered the college ranks as the number one rated player overall and he dominated in the world games, however Labissiere has only put up mediocre college statistics despite all the natural gifts that he possesses. And, the reason that he has not dominated college basketball is because like so many other great college coaches, John Calipari has slowed his progress. Calipari runs a system that is predicated on big men playing under the basket and guards moving freely on the perimeter while penetrating into the paint. For that system to work, Calipari needs Labissiere in the deep post rebounding, using his bodies to create spacing, and scoring on alley-oops, hooks, and putbacks. But, Labissiere’s game is predicated on him being able to operate in space. Though he is more effective away from the basket where a pump fake and a quick dribble gets him by his opponent, his coach wanted him to learn to play primarily with his back to the basket because that creates defined lanes for Kentucky’s athletic guards to drive to the rim. Skal cannot use his long arms and leaping ability as well in congestion and his quickness is less effective with a big body leaning against him. So, a player that could have potentially carried the program with his length and athleticism is being forced to battle stronger players in an area of the floor where his physical gifts can be negated by physical play. This is the crux of argument against the One-And-Done rule.

Great players who could potentially compete at the highest levels of their sport from the moment that they leave high school are being forced to play at universities, and their development is being stunted. The basic principles of coaching at the college and professional level contrast so greatly that the more physically talented athletes are actually hindered by playing at universities. In college, players change their games to acquiesce to their coach’s base philosophy of basketball in order to help the team. Talented basketball players like Skal Labissiere have their skill sets constricted by playing a style of basketball that is not conducive to them being effective. The system always comes before the player there. But in the NBA, coaches change their game strategies to elevate the play of their athletes. Basketball players are given the best individual skills teachers to hone their skill sets. They receive specified instruction in shooting mechanics, ball-handling, strength and conditioning, and nutrition, all areas that make them better at their profession. But more importantly, NBA coaches are forced to place athletes in a position where their natural style of play is the most effective against the opposing teams or they risk losing their jobs. A guy like Labissiere, who is more adept at catching and shooting in the lane, would not be forced into the clogged blocks of the post. His team would create plays specifically designed to get him the type of shots that he feels more comfortable taking rather than forcing him to learn the fundamentals of another position.

Every year, there are gifted players who suffer statistically because of the One-And-Done rule, hurt their draft stock, and ultimately lose earning potential because they were forced to play for a college coach who needs them to play a very specific role in the team. In 2014, Myles Turner entered college as the 2nd best overall prospect, but was not picked until the 11th spot in the 2015 NBA draft. He never developed definitive post moves at the University of Texas, he did become a more sure-handed ball-handler, and he did not improve as a spot-up shooter. Any singular improvement could have made him a go-to player in college and therefore more formidable in the pros. Aaron Gordon was the 4th ranked prospect in the nation upon graduating high school in the class of 2013. At the University of Arizona, he was an elite athlete with good ball-handling skills and good touch around the rim, but was relegated to rebounding and defense on a team that featured strong guard play. Though he was taken fourth in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic, Gordon has yet to make an impact at the professional level because his offensive game was underdeveloped at Arizona. And, although Shabazz Muhammad was the primary offensive weapon for the UCLA Bruins in 2012, he was also used by his coach in a way that failed to develop his basketball skills. Muhammad was the number 1 overall ranked recruit and came to UCLA touted as the most talented freshman in the country, but left a one-dimensional scorer because his coach needed him to produce buckets. He never learned to pass the basketball, his defense was atrocious, and his rebounding was mediocre. The only improvement that he made in college was extending his range. Muhammad was taken 14th in the 2013 NBA draft.


These stories represent a much larger number of cases where players have been misused or underutilized to benefit their coaches who were worried solely about their programs. Guys like Cliff Alexander, Mason Plumlee, and Harrison Barnes may have benefited from being able to jump straight to the NBA because the best pros in the league over the last twenty years have never played a minute of college basketball. Could Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neil, Amaré Stoudemaire, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, or LeBron James feasibly have been helped by going to college? These players were perennial All-Stars in their prime, and Kobe, Garnett, and LeBron each won the NBA’s most prestigious individual award, the NBA Most Valuable Player award. Preps to pros players excelled in the league because they received specialized attention to improve the deficiencies in their game. Athletes like J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, DeShawn Stevenson, Kendrick Perkins, Monta Ellis, and Shaun Livingston worked hard to become starters for their respective NBA teams, but they had the best instructors in the world teaching them every facet of the game. All these players contributed to their teams because they were guided and developed by coaches that understood that cultivating the talent of the players rather than constricting it ultimately helps the team and the coach. Imagine if a seminal talent like LeBron James would have been obligated to play college ball. His elite athleticism would have set him apart from the other players, but his height and size might have coerced his coach into playing him under the rim. He would have had to play out of position in the post, and the full impact of his ball handling and vision might never have been fully realized if he graduated high school under the One-And-Done rule. Most college coaches would move him primarily into the post to fill a need with his size, but James had a very limited post game coming out of high school and probably would have languished playing power forward. The college game moves at a slower pace with less time and fewer possessions than the pro game. The standard zone defenses played in college could hypothetically frustrate a young, inexperienced LeBron James playing out of position. And, like Cliff Alexander and many other freshman in college, a young player who does not excel immediately in college may lose minutes to upperclassmen. LeBron James may have never become the other-worldly talent that he is today if he was forced to play a year of college ball.

The One-And-Done rule has been openly criticized for limiting the careers of basketball athletes and because of its inability to help NBA general managers sift through talent any more efficiently than they had before the rule was instated. And, cases like that of Skal Labissiere only serve to show that the rule is even more disadvantageous to players than expected. Not only does this practice take money directly out of the pockets of athletes by stealing a year of earning, but it also indirectly stunts the growth of some basketball players thereby inhibiting their ability to earn through production. The One-And-Done rule has failed in its objective to develop athletes and aid NBA management in assessing talent. It impairs players and it has diminished the level of play in both college and professional basketball. The One-And-Done has been proven ineffective and should be repealed for the good of individual players and for the welfare of basketball as a whole.

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