Editor’s Note: Last Word on Sports is pleased to welcome Michael Taglienti as a new writer to the LWOS team. A texas resident and Texas A&M and Dallas Cowboys fan, Mike will be providing excellent and analytical commentary on college basketball, college football and the NFL. Here is his first piece.
The Shabazz Muhammad era is over in Westwood, as the All-Conference guard/forward from UCLA has declared for the NBA draft. Muhammad’s exit from the UCLA program after an abbreviated year on the campus, is yet another example of why “one and done” players are not worth the effort to recruit.
Muhammad was considered by many to be the top prospect in his class since 2010. He became a household name among college basketball fans. His recruitment drew the attention of the NCAA before he had ever signed a letter of intent. The UCLA coaching staff spent year wooing the 6’6″ small forward/shooting guard.
He signed with UCLA and was named the Pac-12 co-freshman of the year while averaging 17.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Muhammad led the Bruins to a 25-10 record and an exit in the NCAA Tournament in the round of 64.
The Bruins went 19-14 and missed the NCAA tournament in 2012. That means that the thousands of man-hours spent courting Muhammad, resulted in six extra wins and an NCAA appearance for the UCLA program.
Recruits like Muhammad are simply not worth all the effort expended on them. College basketball coaches would be much better off trying to bring in players who will stick around for a year or two before bolting to the NBA.
Coaches should follow the model created by Brad Stevens at Butler. He has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons without a single “one and done” player on his roster.
Compare that record of consistency to programs like Baylor that focus on recruiting and featuring “one and done” players. The Baylor Bears have been unable to string together consecutive NCAA tournament appearances since Scott Drew arrived on campus.
He can convince gifted players like Perry Jones and Isaiah Austin to come play basketball in Waco, but he cannot put together a consistent winner because of the constant turnover of his roster.
Even Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose program has been the epitome of consistency, has been negatively affected by “one and done” players. The Longhorns had qualified for the NCAA Tournament for 14 consecutive years before the program collapsed in on itself during the 2012-2013 season.
Texas was hurt by the suspension of point guard Myck Kabongo, and a roster devoid of talented upperclassmen due to heavy losses to the NBA draft. Longhorn basketball fans have watched as Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph have all spent one year in Austin before leaving for the riches of the NBA.
The result is a program that has not been to the round of 16 in five years. Barnes cannot build up his program because the roster turnover is too great.
Why should coaches deal with the headaches of courting one of the top 10 prospects in the country, when they can bring in a a lesser prospect who will help them build a championship level program?
Critics will point out that Kentucky won a national title with a roster full of players who left after their freshman season. The Wildcats won the 2011-2012 national title and then had three freshmen starters selected in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. Kentucky did not qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2013.
Recruiting college basketball players is a demeaning process whereby assistant coaches have to adapt to the changing whims of a teenager. If the coaches are going to go through the arduous process of bringing a player on campus, they might as well find one who is going to stick around and help the program for more than one year.
College basketball coaches need to look for players who want to build a program, not the ones who are looking for a pit-stop on the way to the NBA. The only way to experience sustained excellence on the basketball court is by ignoring the fools gold of “one and done” players, and building a team with players who want to enjoy the college experience.
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