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
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.”
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.