Former NBA coach and current SMU coach Larry Brown torched Mark Cuban's assertion that the NBA D-League would provide a better developmental system than college basketball on Wednesday.
"I admire him and I think he's one of the bright guys we have in our profession, but that was the worst thing I heard," Brown, who has won titles in college and the NBA, said during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
"They don't teach guys how to play, in my mind," Brown said of the D-League. "The head coaches in the NBA and a lot of the assistants do, but [college basketball] is the greatest minor league system in the world. If you didn't go to one class and just live in a college environment, then you're way ahead. And I think most coaches are responsible enough to make them go to class, make them go to study hall, give them life lessons.
"How about being around [SMU assistants] Eric Snow and George Lynch? Those two guys played 13, 14 years in the league, have families, are successful. In all honesty, I love Mark, but [college basketball] is pretty good.
"Now, it's our job to make [players] realize getting an education is something that's important, because here's the deal: Life after basketball is a real long time."
Brown's a current college coach, with an oldschool mindset. So of course he's going to defend the college system. It's all he's everk known. But let's look at the problems with his statement.
1. No blanket solution. There are lots of players who will do better under the college development program. But there are just as many who don't blossom until the pro environment. Maybe it's as simple as the schemes the teams use. Maybe it's strength and conditioning. Maybe it's environment. Every player needs the development track that's best for him. I don't agree with Cuban that the D-League is 100 percent better nor with Brown that the college ranks are adequate. There's been more and more of a separation in the level of sophistication.
2. The Zone Issue: Coach Brian Shaw this week was lamenting how unprepared some of his younger players were for the pro game, but he was't pointing fingers. The idea with a player not being ready is often put on the player. But Shaw was adamant that it wasn't their fault. "If you play zone in high school, then go to Baylor, where they play zone, you've never learned the principles of man defense," Shaw said. Are you going to ask coaches to not play a certain style because it slows down their progress as pro players? No, right? So there has to be a system to provide pro prospects with a better track if they choose it. Lots of players can adjust from zone to man. But some can't.
3. Comparing it to the current D-League is a straw man. The current D-League is light years beyond where it was when Brown left the pro coaching ranks. Even in the last few years we've seen the expansion of the hybrid system which gives teams the ability to run the basketball operations program without owning the team. Coaching and organizational development is stronger. But even then, the current system is light years from where it would be with a full commitment from the league. A fully integrated 30-team one-to-one affiliate minor league would give teams the control to put what they need in. Furthe CBA changes to keep players on assignment off the cap and off the books would further help teams commit to it. Send a big man prospect down, tell him to spend the year focusing on defensive principles and weight training. Send down a trainer and a defensive assistant with him, and work for a full season on it.
Finally, no offense, but "Look, Eric Snow is teaching them!" doesn't exactly fill me with joy for players' development. (I'm sure Snow is a fine assistant, this is just a joke about his gunning career path.)
The reality is, like I said, somewhere in the middle. College basketball has a place in the development system. Kansas is an awful place to develop as an NBA-ready-out-of-the-box talent. Bill Self's system just doesn't do that for you. But it does prepare you for understanding how to be a winning player. Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur. These are guys you want on your team because they understand how to win.
But there's no absolute. Both sides need to work together to build the best system for the players. And that may be the biggest problem with the college ranks. Because there is no debate about whether that system has the players' best interests at heart or not. They don't.