Will play­ers stay or will they go?

Top-tier col­lege bas­ket­ball teams face an­nual dilemma of how to plan for po­ten­tial one-and-done stars

Los Angeles Times - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

Even be­fore he be­came em­broiled in an in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent that clouded his fu­ture, one UCLA fresh­man bas­ket­ball player’s col­lege ca­reer fig­ured to be a short one.

“Balls only go to school for one year,” LaVar Ball, the fa­ther of Bruins shoot­ing guard LiAn­gelo Ball, told The Times last week af­ter his mid­dle son scored 11 points off the bench dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion game. “We’re one and done no mat­ter what.”

LiAn­gelo Ball was among three Bruins fresh­men who re­mained Thurs­day at a ho­tel in Hangzhou, China, while await­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings in­volv­ing their role in the al­leged theft of de­signer sun­glasses. For­wards Cody Ri­ley and Jalen Hill were also in­volved in the in­ci­dent that came only days be­fore UCLA’s sea­son opener against Ge­or­gia Tech on Fri­day in Shang­hai.

How many of its fresh­men will leave col­lege af­ter one sea­son is a ques­tion con­fronting UCLA even un­der the best of cir­cum­stances. It’s an an­nual dilemma for the Bruins and ev­ery other top-tier col­lege bas­ket­ball pro­gram, cal­cu­lat­ing the need to fill slots that may or may not be­come va­cant.

“That’s the era that we coach in now,” UCLA coach Steve Al­ford said, “so you never know how long you’ve got them.”

Al­though the NBA did not amend its so-called one­and-done rule as part of its most re­cent col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, Pac-12 Con­fer­ence Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott said a few ideas have been pro­posed among col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors to keep play­ers in col­lege for mul­ti­ple years.

One would be by mak­ing fresh­men in­el­i­gi­ble, a move that would force play­ers to stay at least through their sopho­more sea­son should they want to com­pete in col­lege.

An­other would be to tie a schol­ar­ship to a player en­ter­ing col­lege for two or three years, mean­ing that their schol­ar­ship would be unavail­able to an­other player for that span even if the player left for the NBA af­ter one sea­son.

“That would cause coaches to think twice about re­cruit­ing the ... one-and­done ath­lete be­cause they’re go­ing to lose a schol­ar­ship,” Scott said dur­ing a meet­ing last week with Times ed­i­tors and re­porters. “If some­one came and left af­ter one year, their schol­ar­ship would be parked.”

The ideal so­lu­tion, Scott said, would be the NBA chang­ing its rule to more closely re­sem­ble those of its pro­fes­sional coun­ter­parts. The NFL re­quires play­ers to have been out of high school for three years and Ma­jor League Base­ball re­quires play­ers who don’t em­bark on their pro­fes­sional ca­reers straight out of high school to have turned 21 or have spent at least three years at a fouryear uni­ver­sity un­less they at­tend a ju­nior or com­mu­nity col­lege, in which case they are el­i­gi­ble to be drafted at any time.

Oth­er­wise, the NCAA is left to cre­ate in­cen­tives or dis­in­cen­tives that would in­flu­ence the length of its play­ers’ time in col­lege.

“They’re not great al­ter­na­tives,” Scott said of the ideas that have been f loated, “but at some stage, if there was so much frus­tra­tion and up­set and feeling that we re­ally needed to do some­thing our­selves to get back to more of the col­le­giate focus, you could con­sider do­ing that. But they all have un­in­tended con­se­quences.”

Josh Ger­shon, the na­tional re­cruit­ing an­a­lyst for Scout.com, said a more likely change would in­volve an ex­pan­sion of the de­vel­op­men­tal G League so that ev­ery NBA team had its own af­fil­i­ate, mak­ing it more of a true mi­nor league sys­tem with bet­ter salaries. That would en­able the pos­si­bil­ity of play­ers flow­ing di­rectly from high school to the G League.

Fresh­man in­el­i­gi­bil­ity, Ger­shon said, “is go­ing to scare kids off to a pro­duc­tive place.” Play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in an in­ter­na­tional league is not a pop­u­lar op­tion be­cause those teams pri­or­i­tize win­ning over player de­vel­op­ment.

UCLA will def­i­nitely need to re­place its three schol­ar­ship se­niors. The Bruins’ ros­ter also in­cludes two fresh­men who were McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­cans, mean­ing the team could have five or six open spots, count­ing Ball’s.

UCLA has re­ceived let­ters of in­tent dur­ing the sign­ing pe­riod that be­gan Wed­nes­day from cen­ter Ken­neth Nwuba of Hunt­ing­ton (W.Va.) Prep and shoot­ing guards David Sin­gle­ton of Tor­rance Bishop Mont­gomery and Jules Bernard of Los Angeles Wind­ward. Nwuba can play cen­ter and power for­ward, and Ger­shon de­scribed Sin­gle­ton and Bernard as two of the top perime­ter play­ers on the West Coast.

“They’re two lo­cal guys that you would ex­pect to be around the pro­gram for a long time and be key pieces to win­ning games mov­ing for­ward,” Ger­shon said.

The Bruins also re­main in the run­ning for highly touted small for­ward Kevin Zhang and cen­ters Moses Brown and Bryan Pen­nJohn­son, among oth­ers.

Ger­shon said the spring re­cruit­ing pe­riod has taken on in­creased im­por­tance be­cause of the volatil­ity of col­lege ros­ters. The FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing cor­rup­tion in col­lege bas­ket­ball, and if more teams are im­pli­cated then play­ers who have com­mit­ted to those pro­grams could re­open their re­cruit­ment.

The Bruins lost their en­tire fresh­man class last spring, with Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anig­bogu opt­ing to en­ter the NBA draft. Ball and Leaf were se­lected in the first round and Anig­bogu went in the sec­ond round.

Now the guess­ing is about their suc­ces­sors.

“What a lot of coaches at a high level are deal­ing with is, year to year, how long are you go­ing to have guys?” Al­ford said. “That’s not etched in stone in a lot of cases.”

Wally Skalij Los Angeles Times

LONZO BALL, left, and TJ Leaf de­clared for the NBA draft af­ter spend­ing only one sea­son play­ing for UCLA. Ball’s brother LiAn­gelo, a fresh­man guard for the Bruins this sea­son, is ex­pected to fol­low suit.

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