Kobe Bryant made headlines last week when he seemingly discounted the teaching ability of college coaches while addressing a question about the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005 when he and 38 other prospects were drafted into the NBA straight from high school.
Here's the quote that got the most attention:
"It seems like the system really isn't teaching players anything, if you go to college," Bryant said. "If you go to college, you play, you showcase, and you come to the pros."
With that, defenders of college basketball quickly tossed their capes on and flew in to rescue the sport, via Twitter, from that criticism, which wasn't surprising. In fairness, though, it also wasn't unwarranted because the idea that college coaches aren't "teaching players anything" is obviously silly, and Bryant is smart enough to know that, I'm certain.
So why did Bryant say what he said?
My guess is he simply misspoke while making a larger point.
And the larger point he made was spot-on and worth examining.
"There's been a lot of players who've come out of high school," Bryant said. "If you do the numbers and you look at the count, you'll probably see players who came out of high school ... were much more successful on average than players who went to college."
That was Bryant's larger point.
And it's 100 percent true, by the way.
For those unfamiliar with the numbers, 39 high school players were selected in the first or second round between 1995 and 2005. Here's a breakdown of how they did:
- Ten became NBA All-Stars.
- Three became NBA Most Valuable Players.
- Thirty-three spent at least five years in the NBA.
That means only six out of 39 spent fewer than five years in the NBA, which means you were essentially twice as likely to get an All-Star as you were a flameout if you selected a high school prospect from 1995 until it was no longer allowed before the 2006 NBA Draft. Roughly 85 percent of the time, at the very least, you got a rotation player. So, like Bryant said, on average the prospects who skipped college and were selected have been much more successful in the NBA than the prospects who went to college before being selected.
It's not even close, actually.
Which is not to suggest that nobody needs college.
And it's not to suggest that nobody learns anything in college, either.
Bryant taking things that far is what muddied the otherwise accurate message he was trying to deliver. I mean, ask Adreian Payne if he's learned anything at Michigan State. Or Doug McDermott if he's learned anything at Creighton. Or Nik Stauskas if he's learned anything at Michigan. Those three players, and countless others, entered school with either modest or non-existent professional aspirations. But they've all developed in college, one way or another, and now all three could be lottery picks in June's NBA Draft.
Who knows where they'd be right now without college basketball?
Most prospects need college basketball.
But the truth is that the best of the best, the truly elite talents, do not benefit much from it, and that's the point, I think, that Bryant was trying to stress. In other words, if you're a good enough prospect to genuinely be on the NBA's radar out of high school -- like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, etc., -- history shows that you're more than capable of making the jump and enjoying a long and profitable career.
Is that best for the NBA?
Which is why the one-and-done rule is in place to begin with.
The truth is that the NBA would rather have an extra year to evaluate prospects against reasonable competition and market prospects via college basketball's various television contracts, and I completely understand all of that. Honestly, I do. But, like Bryant, I've never been that interested in looking at this issue from the perspective of what's "good for the game" as much as I've been fascinated by it from the perspective of elite prospects, and all of the data available suggests that elite prospects can and do develop in the NBA.
And don't even try to hit me with Kwame Brown.
Seriously, don't go there.
Yes, Brown is a bad No. 1 overall pick relative to other No. 1 overall picks. But that dude has spent 12 years in the NBA and made roughly $64 million, meaning Kwame Brown has done OK for Kwame Brown. If the worst "mistake" he ever made is skipping college to earn $64 million, man, we should all be so lucky.
Bottom line, Kobe Bryant was right and wrong.
He's wrong to suggest that college isn't teaching players anything.
But is college necessary for elite talents to develop? Absolutely not. For proof, go look at the NBA All-Star Game starters. They spent an average of just 1.3 years playing college basketball, and they've developed just fine, it seems.