I’ve never understood why so many basketball writers exhibit such a knee-jerk antipathy toward borderline college players placing their names in the NBA draft. By coming out early, you’re simply giving up an athletic scholarship in exchange for a shot at playing professionally. Thus the worst-case scenario is merely that you no longer get a free education, something that most of us never got in the first place. Losing your free education is not doom. It is instead a setback, something that all of us get all of the time.
Take former Florida star Matt Walsh, the subject of this don’t-let-it-happen-to-you piece by Dana O’Neil. Walsh left the Gators after his junior season in 2005 but went undrafted. We can agree that Walsh would have preferred to have been drafted. We can even agree things would have been fun if he’d stuck around in Gainesville the following season. Presumably he would have been part of Florida’s 2006 national championship.
But Walsh wanted to take a shot at something even better. We know what happened, of course (he didn’t make the NBA), but what we can never know is what would have happened if he’d stayed for his senior season. It’s easy to say he would have “improved his game” and “become stronger,” but the truth is that just as often a four-year player’s age is cited as a “red flag” in draft discussions. There’s simply no guarantee that Walsh’s basketball career would have turned out better had he stayed on another year in Gainesville.
True, maybe if Walsh had stayed at Florida one more year he’d have a degree. But if he feels he needs his diploma he is still free to pursue it anytime he wants. He may not be NBA-wealthy, but with the money he’s earned playing professionally in Europe for four seasons he’s certainly more well-heeled than most undergrads.
Not to mention Walsh was the Belgian League MVP in 2009. He even looks pretty healthy and happy on his Wikipedia page. Forgive me if I fail to shudder at this particular cautionary tale.
Each decision to come out early needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And the decision to stay in school is not always the safe choice.