Wins and losses: The woos and woes of "going pro"
NOW THAT BASKETBALL PLAYING SEASON is over (no, the NBA doesn't count), for fans of the top teams, it is a season of sadness and helplessness, as the college basketball fan watches and waits to see which of his players are "going pro early."
With gazelle-like Tyler Zeller, a junior, and Spiderman-clone John Henson, a sophomore, having announced that they are staying, TarHeeldom awaits the word of freshman phenom Harrison Barnes. While I wait I meditate on "going pro." I'll share my thoughts (and actual facts) on Tar Heels who have "gone pro."
For some players there is a right time to "go early." University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith had the temerity to advise players to go pro. Not give them his blessing. Not attend their press conference announcing their decision and act like he was happy being there, but to personally recommend to them that the time was right for them to go. (It is little wonder he won so few games, with him thinking of his players' good before his own.)
In 1972 Bob McAdoo, a junior-college transfer, became the first player coached by Smith to go pro early. (Side note: His nephew James McAdoo arrives in Chapel Hill this fall. If Michael is as good in ACC play as he looked in the McDonald's All-American Game, McAdoo II will be "going pro early" in a few years too)
For Bob McAdoo I would say 1972 was the right time. He won the 1973 NBA Rookie of the Year Award in his first season, earned the first of three consecutive NBA scoring titles in his second, and was awarded the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in his third.
Likewise for James Worthy, 1982 was the right time. Worthy, who shared national Player of the Year honors with Virginia's Ralph Sampson, waited until fellow junior Sampson announced he was staying to announce he was going. "Big Game James" was the first player taken in the 1982 draft -- ending up with the Los Angles Lakers, a perennial championship contender, rather than with the worst team in league as usually happens.
In 1984, some guy named Mike went early. Michael Jordan had been the national player of the year after his sophomore and junior seasons. My recollection is “going pro early” didn't seem to hurt his pro career, or the fondness of the memories for him in Chapel Hill.
(Pop quiz: Michael Jordan was drafted third, who were the players drafted ahead of him? Think for a minute.)
(Answer: The first pick was Hakeem Olajuwon, which was not stupid as he is now in the NBA Hall of Fame. The second was Sam Bowie, who is, you might ask, who? He is the answer to this question: “Who was the worst pick in the history of pro sports drafts?” Bowie, who had missed two full seasons in college with a recalcitrant leg fracture, had an injury-laden 10-year career as a journeyman pro player.)
For some players there is no right time to "go early." After the Tar Heels lost in the national championship game in 1977 to Marquette, Smith recommended to junior Phil Ford that he go pro. According to Art Chansky, Ford said no by asking, "Who's going to tell my mother?" Apparently, even Coach Smith didn't have the nerve to do that. Mabel Ford valued a college degree over money. Ford graduated and went pro after his senior season, was the second pick in the draft, and was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Not "going early" is sometimes bad: case in point, Donald Williams. Williams received the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award when UNC won the 1993 championship, and did not go pro early, did not get drafted as a senior, never made it to the NBA, and, at last report, was an assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh.
And some who "go pro early" did no such thing. When, as a junior, national player of the year Antawn Jamison "went pro early," he had met all the academic requirements for graduation, except for one: the swimming test.
"I can't swim at all," Jamison admitted. "You'll probably never see me in a pool over six feet," Jamison is quoted as saying. "They had a tutor with me the whole four weeks of the class. It was probably the hardest subject I faced in college, but I finished it," he added.
But, in any case, stars "going pro early" make life hard for the fans of their teams. I remember one year, following a batch of player graduations and early entries in the pro draft, a fellow Tar Heel fan was moaning to me about our team's losses, and I sympathized: "Yes," I said, "We're down to our last seven McDonald's All-Americans."
Gary D. Gaddy is going pro just as soon as he finds a sport someone will pay him to play.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday April 15, 2011.
Copyright 2011 Gary D. Gaddy
Authored by Gary G. Gaddy
at 8:00 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 9:15 AM EDT