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Kobe Bryant: College basketball system ‘really isn’t teaching players anything’

Jan 23, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

USA Men's Basketball Team Scrimmage Against China

Strangely, Kobe Bryant was recently held up as an example for why Jabari Parker should return to Duke for a second season.

Kobe, of course, went to the NBA directly from high school and has had an extremely fruitful career, both financially and in terms of on-court success. But I guess he was only a low-rotation backup as a rookie, or something. Only the most twisted reading of Kobe’s career would indicate his bypassing of college wasn’t a roaring success.

Just take it from Kobe himself. Lakers Nation:

“I don’t really look at it from that perspective of what was good for the game of basketball,” Kobe said when asked about his impact on the NBA as a prep-to-pro player. “I think the reality is there’s been a lot of players who’ve come out of high school. If you do the numbers and you look at the count, you’ll probably see players who came out of high school that were much more successful on average than players who went to college for a year or two or however long. It seems like the system really isn’t teaching players anything, if you go to college. If you go to college, you play, you showcase, and you come to the pros. Well, that’s always been the big argument, as a player you have to go to college, you have to develop your skills and so forth and so on, and then you come to the league. So, we kind of got sold on that dream a little bit. Fortunately, I didn’t really listen much to it. Neither did KG. Neither did LeBron. I think that worked out pretty well for all three of us.

“I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decisions, especially as it pertains to going out and working and having a job. You should be able to go out there and make your own choices.”

You don’t have to count the players who went from high school to the NBA. Neil Paine already did the work for you, and Kobe’s intuition is correct. Drafted high school players have been much more successful than their college-going peers.

But, really, that shouldn’t matter.

Kobe nailed this when he said he didn’t view the decision through the lens of what’s best for basketball on the whole. “You should be able to go out there and make your own choices.”

Unfortunately, high school players can’t make the choice to jump to the NBA anymore, thanks to the infamous one-and-done rule.

Instead, they’re left playing in college for – often – less-than-market compensation. They’re stuck there so NBA owners (who don’t want to pay to develop their own talent), college coaches and administrators (whose salaries artificially inflated by the money their players aren’t allowed to receive) and marginal NBA players (who voted in a Collective Bargaining Agreement that excludes players who could threaten their jobs) can make more money.

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However, I don’t completely agree with Kobe, that the college basketball system “really isn’t teaching players anything.”

Going to college is the best route for a majority of top high school prospects. The D-League may change that someday, but there just aren’t enough viable paying basketball jobs to accommodate all of them. And despite whatever motives they have, many major-team college basketball coaches do a good job developing their players.

For many players, college basketball is the best choice. It’s just a shame more of them don’t have the choice to go a different way.

  1. Kansachusetts - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Agree with your point, Dan. Just want to point out that a study that shows players drafted out of high school do better than players who go to college does NOT show that most players would do better if they went to the NBA from high school. It shows that the NBA drafts great players out of high school, not average players. So the sample is skewed.

  2. aboogy123456 - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Good article and I think it really depends on the specific player. Every player has weaknesses that they need to work on, and doing so in game action really helps. If players go to the NBA too early, they may not have the confidence to work on their weaknesses during the game. Marcus Smart I think is a good example of a player who should have stayed in college. His biggest weakness is shooting the ball, and because he is better than other players, he can work on his jumpshot during games and still dominate. He’s improved and now he’ll have more confidence in his shot when he goes pro next year.

    basketball is a game of confidence, so guys like kobe who have all the confidence in the world can go to the nba early and still develop very well. Some other guys may want to work on their weaknesses in college before taking it to the big stage.

    • telergy - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Why would you want to work on your weaknesses in college for free, with generally inferior coaching, opposed to the NBA’s coaches and what they can offer…WHILE getting paid for it?

      • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:21 PM

        Because apparently they have some “commitment” to the NCAA and preserving their “amateurism”. Meanwhile, Warren Buffett is offering $1 billion to anyone who correctly gambles on the “amateur” NCAA.

      • sportsfan18 - Jan 23, 2014 at 5:17 PM

        Because some players get glued to the end of the bench when in the NBA because they aren’t good enough.

        They DON’T get any playing time.

        Look up Shabazz Muhammad’s stats with the Timberwolves. He was a one and done with UCLA and selected 16th in the draft.

        He’s played a WHOLE 51 min’s this season.

        He’s shooting .263% from the floor.

        His PER is 1.3

        Yeah, you read that right, it’s ONE POINT THREE

        Think this kid shouldn’t be on the UCLA team getting better?

        Think this kid’s future in the league is bright at this point?

  3. honkerdawg - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Good advise Kobe don’t go to school and be stupid, I guess he has a kid he’s going to advise his kid to skip college and if doesn’t make it in the the NBA he can always fall back on daddy’s millions like every other kid. Oh that’s right not every kids dad is a multimillionaire.

    • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      honkerdawg says “dont go to school and be stupid” so one year in school taking only general courses is really going to have ssooo much of an impact…right..

      • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Hey, I use the skills I learned in Geology 101: How to Read a Map every time I turn on Google Maps

    • aboogy123456 - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      In this scenario, if you skip college and go to the NBA, even if you aren’t successful you have enough money from NBA salary to make the decision worth it. Also, playing a season or two in the NBA can be a great resume builder for future jobs and grad school.

    • fanofthegame79 - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      I think Kobe was simply saying that kids graduating high school should be allowed to enter the workforce if they feel they are ready. Pro sports is the only arena where someone can’t obtain a job if they are qualified unless they fulfill the college requirement. But those same high school graduates can go and die for their country in combat. It makes no sense. The old arguement of “NBA teams not wanting to pay for an inferior product” (i.e. players right from high school) was just disproven by that insert (http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2171&mode=print&nocache=1358639181).

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:27 PM

      If you don’t go to college straight out of high school, you can never go back! It’s kind of like Peter Pan’s Neverland.

      • mackcarrington - Jan 23, 2014 at 7:04 PM

        You can go back to college. You just won’t have any eligibility to play ball anymore.

    • ocgunslinger - Jan 24, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      @honkerdawg

      “Good advise Kobe don’t go to school and be stupid”, Ironic criticism. Sounds like you went right to the NBA

  4. telergy - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Lets be real here…most of these blue chip hs players are 1-and-done and are just as raw when they get drafted as they were when they got to college. GMs are still making DUMB drafting decisions even AFTER seeing these players play in college (Anthony Bennett?). Players are no longer getting paid egregious amounts of $$ due to the slotted salary compensation based on where you were selected + theres penalties for going over the cap.

    Forcing players to play a year of college only helps NCAA. Unless theres some under the table deal where the NCAA is paying the NBA to force these HS’ers to go to college, theres really no reason why they shouldnt be allowed to go straight to the nba.

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:29 PM

      “Unless theres some under the table deal where the NCAA is paying the NBA to force these HS’ers to go to college,”

      Maybe they rigged it so that the NBA can win Warren Buffett’s March Madness bracket

  5. onebigredrocket - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.

    • nbd23 - Jan 23, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      You don’t have to go to college to have a backup plan. Just because you go to college as a prep instead of the pros because it is required doesnt mean you will be in poverty because you dont have a college education. Its the dumbest logic I have ever heard.

  6. deavn - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    I think players should be able to make the decision of whether they wanna go to the league or not out of high school. You’re an adult and able to make your own decisions at 18 whether it’s good or bad for you. Also, some players have certain financial situations and need to go to the NBA to support their families. I mean it could backfire, but for the most part, it should be up to the player to determine that.

  7. senorpapino - Jan 23, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    The baseball model is what should be done – either you go pro out of high school or you go to college for 3 years. One and done doesn’t improve your game and it doesn’t get the players any sort of education (which would probably help somewhat with all the financial problems that ex-players have).

    • bougin89 - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      Con: This would force a lot of players that should go to college even for a year or two to turn pro(instead of being locked into a 3 year commitment without any potential of income).

      Pro: The NBA Development league would get a huge influx of young talent.

  8. johngalt1783 - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    Kobe as usual is 100% correct and it doesn’t take a twisted mind to see that. Sure there are exceptions to the one and done rule not doing anything when it comes to teaching fundamental basketball to one and done players.

    However, even Lebron and KD as good as they were when they came out both signficantly improved their games after signing with the Cavs and Sonics.

    Almost every one and one player signficantly lacks in fundamental skills when they are drafted. #1 among those defeciences is their inability to defend. #2. Is their inability to make their teammates better.

    The NBA needs to do away with the dumb one and one rule as long as sociology classes remain on the college ciriculum

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:51 PM

      If you know you’re going to lose a player in a year or two anyway, why would you focus on fundamentals? You will just focus on making that player fit into your system so you can maximize the return you get from them. There is no incentive to college coaches to make the players better.

  9. johngalt1783 - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    I do agree that the D-League system, pay and coaching needs to be improved in order to give high school players a solid option rather than the dumb one and one thing in college. Just ask Anthony Bennett

  10. dinofrank60 - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    It’s time for a dedicated minor league.
    Instead of pushing the alternate jerseys, scheduling games all over the planet, fining coaches for resting their players and all sorts of other “creative” stuff, the NBA should concentrate on a viable, needed minor league system. Should’ve happened 10 years ago.
    You can draft kids, give them playing time to learn their craft.
    You can keep the 15 man rosters, with 12 active players.
    You can bring back the DL. This means you can call up players when you need to fill out a roster and send them back down without the 10-day deals and all of that nonsense.
    You can really construct organizations with a preferred philosophy.

  11. dudermcrbohan - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    enough with the stupid ads embedded into the text of the post. Nobody cares!

    • shanelsweet - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      I keep waiting for some news on the winners. How does PBT keep begging for us to become fantasy players with its “partner” FanDuel without ever writing about any winners?

  12. shanelsweet - Jan 23, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    If the NBA and NCAA cared a whit about these young men, then they’d let them freely switch between the pros and college. There’s no good reason why these players couldn’t try the pros, and if they don’t like it, then play for a college team. The college coaches should be allowed to recruit from the D league or off the NBA benches. Instead, they force these young men to chose, and if they go pro, they can never play in college. That’s BS.

    • bougin89 - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      That’s like saying if someone wanted to go to college early(like as a sophmore or junior) and it didn’t work out they should be able to go back to high school and play.

      It would be the end of amateur status as we know it. Bad idea.

  13. merrhod - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    Notice how many players Kobe mentioned: KG, LBJ, himself. The list isn’t that great!! There are many that tried to go that route and weren’t successful, Bill Willoughby comes to mind. You have to be exceptionally talented to make the jump.

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      Sam Bowie stayed all four years in college and he still sucked

      • eugenesaxe1 - Jan 23, 2014 at 8:33 PM

        Yeah, let’s blame his health on him getting an education.

  14. shadowshand - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Anybody read Paine’s 2012 assessment of guys drafter right out of high school? He lumped these guys into six categories–superstar, all-star, starter, regular, scrub and DNP. I paused when he listed Dwight Howard as a superstar and Andrew Bynum as an all-star but stopped reading when he listed Kwame Brown as a starter. Hard to figure out the criteria or take it seriously when those are his judgments.

  15. louhudson23 - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    For an awful lot of players,the money is not a factor,as they end up with zero within a short period of time after leaving the league,be that in 3,6 or 10 years. And it has little to do with the size of their contract. The concept that an NBA contract does anything whatsoever for them when they are out of the league is simply not true for a large number of them(estimates vary wildly). Having nice cars and a big house for 3-6 or 10 years is meaningless when it’s all gone. It may as well have never happened. Obviously,many players do not go broke,and are secure for life,but that is little consolation too those who do..It does little good to go to school for a year or four or straight to the pros if you end up broke. It isn’t what you make,it’s what you spend,it isn’t the contract,it’s the bank account…If people are so concerned about players being allowed to make a living,then something radical needs to done to give them a better chance of actually having it do them some good….It clearly isn’t an easy thing to find yourself suddenly rich and keep it that way. .Professional athletes,entertainers,lottery winners,business people…the list is long ….Whether it is a mandatory deferment/trust of some sort or the NCAA offering an extended period to get a degree(2 years of scholarship for each year of passing grades??)Players are disposable commodities,most of whom are paid peanuts(no matter how big the numbers) compared to what the schools,and pro teams earn,otherwise they wouldn’t pay them what they do. The fact of having once earned millions is worth zero when that is your current bank balance….

  16. lawrinson20 - Jan 23, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    More fuzzy ‘logic’ from an undereducated ‘star.’

    So, it makes sense, to him, to conclude that:
    • The Elite of the Elite, who were WANTED by pro teams directly out of high school had a better success rate than…
    • The much larger pool of players who went to college, most of whom were decidedly NOT elite players?

    Jeez. Yeah, that’s some fantastic insight.

    What people of limited intellect fail to comprehend is that, since we cannot run parallel existences, it’s rather impossible to speculate on what WOULD have happened had certain players gone to college and if certain players did not go to college.

    Had Kobe gone to Duke or Villanova or where ever, maybe he wouldn’t have had the same early pro career struggles. Maybe he would have been more prepared, and maybe he would have been able to help his team win a couple more games. Maybe Garnett would have had an even BETTER pro career. It seems it’s a matter of narcissism for Kobe to suggest that he is all that he could possibly have been. But, i would posit that had he attended college and learned a bit more about PEOPLE, he would have had a better career as a TEAMMATE. Maybe he would have learned to respect women a bit more…. College teaches a person so much more than he seems to be aware of. It’s unfortunate that he seems to have so much disdain for an academic and social experience that he doesn’t understand.

    Kobe doesn’t understand why others are making the decisions for the kids? Jeez. Maybe he should look to the rest of the real world to discover how many LIMITS are imposed on real people. Is it possible that an under-35 year old non-college graduate could have been a good President of the United States? Directly related to “The Game of Basketball,” as he so often and so pretentiously puts it, it’s GOOD for both the NBA and for the NCAA to have kids go to school first. The NBA product is better. Interest in players is developed during a college career. And, teams and owners take fewer risks when there is a more developed, realistic ‘portfolio’ of accomplishments to evaluate. This ISN’T pro tennis. This ISN’T auto racing. This isn’t baseball. Failing to deal with the nuances is a failure to deal with the issues on the whole.

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      Going to school worked for Michael Olowokandi, he definitely didn’t suck

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 23, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      Maybe NBA GMs and scouts should stop drafting bad players

      • nbd23 - Jan 24, 2014 at 9:47 AM

        A billion times like!

    • topdawg4ever - Jan 24, 2014 at 2:52 PM

      Excellent post, Lawrinson20. Kobe is a perfect example of why kids should go to college and then go pro. Maybe he would have learned something about teamwork and unselfishness- his most glaring faults. College play enhances your skill level and helps you mature. There are very few players who can go from HS to the pros.

  17. tork006 - Jan 23, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    Kobe you’re a moron. Do you know what that means? First, why would anyone ask Kobe a question? Kobe is illiterate. Just because he is given millions of dollars does not make him capable of speaking intelligently, nor speak correctly. Look at what he spoke!!! Two negatives in a sentence make a positive. He basically said nothing. So why ask the dumb arse a question when he can not speak? College can not teach you to rape. College can not help a person to better themselves unless they want to better themselves. You can give a ghetto boy millions but he will always be ghetto!!!! Spend a year in college and get a few years ahead of yourself Kobe. Of course you will not understand the statement until you apply yourself.

    • Kurt Helin - Jan 24, 2014 at 2:26 PM

      Kobe is a lot of things, but not even close to illiterate. He’s smart, speaks three languages fluently, and his SAT score (under the old system) of 1080, which is pretty good.

  18. spursareold - Jan 23, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    Perhaps the NBA should go to the MLB mdel. If you go out of HS, fine, but if you go to college, you MUST stay 3 years. They don’t learn anything in college because they only stay one year. How much time do you want to spend teaching a kid fundmentals if you know he’s walking off campus after the NCAA tournament in March?

  19. mackcarrington - Jan 23, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    Kwame Brown didn’t go to college and he did OK. Financially.

  20. eugenesaxe1 - Jan 23, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    The schools are teaching just fine, it’s up to the players as to whether or not they want to learn. And I’m not talking about academics, I’m talking about life experiences.

  21. crazyfootballfun - Jan 24, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    Is there more to college than basketball? What is the average length of an NBA career? Are they better off with a degree after that NBA career, especially if they are not one of the stars and are not going to have a long career? Those are some of the questions the kid needs to ask and someone needs to be honest with him about his skills and the real possibilities he has or does not have.

  22. wakiash - Jan 24, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    What Kobe is really saying is that “nobody can teach me anything, as I am the greatest and I already know it all”

    It is his attitude that is making him one of the worlds most despised “athletes”.

    • topdawg4ever - Jan 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      Exactly.

  23. omniusprime - Jan 24, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    Maybe if Kobe had attended college he’d know that colleges can teach important things to players willing and able to learn. The problem is players who are more focused on a stupid kid’s game than in learning adult material.

    You can lead a donkey to water, you just can’t make the stubborn ass drink! That’s the problem, players who are too stupid to learn anything real, just how to play a kid’s game. So sad that in our country athletics and religion are more important than academics, it’s why we have so many morons like the tea party.

  24. tipstopten - Jan 24, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Maybe not BB skill, but how about life skills, how about being a good person, not a smug idiot. One that that has a little
    for respect for his wife and other women.

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