Photo Credit: Hoops Habit



Did Kevin Garnett ruin College basketball?


Is it possible that someone who never played college basketball was the person to ruin it?


There was a time where college basketball was just as big, if not bigger, than college football. During March Madness, they had the collegiate stage all to themselves to showcase their biggest stars and best teams for all of the world to see for three weeks. Players became household names before their NBA days due to their time on campus. Rivalries were formed, upsets happened yearly, and records were broken.


Enter a basketball phenom who attended Farragut Career Academy on Chicago’s West Side.


Photo Credit: NBA

Now, Kevin Garnett (KG) wasn’t the first player to make the jump from High School to the NBA. In 1962 Reggie Harding was selected in the fourth round by the Detroit Pistons. However, the rules at the time prohibited players from the high school level to play in the professional ranks without being one year removed from graduation, so Reggie had to wait until the following season before he could join the Pistons.

In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled against the regulation and allowed players from high school to be eligible to play in the pros without having to wait the standard year. Moses Malone was the first player to play directly out of high school when he was drafted by the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association, rival of the NBA. The following year, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby were drafted from the high school ranks as well, but that was the end of high school players heading straight to the pros for some time.


See, outside of these players mentioned, going to college to play ball for four years was the way to do things.


Heading to college after high school was common, but it was also exhilarating! To lead your team to the NCAA Tournament, to make it to the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, to cut down the nets after winning the national championship. This was every basketball player’s dream… to be a part of the school’s tradition shared by the pros who went before. This is, as they say, ‘Your last chance to play this game purely for the love of the sport.’

Playing for legendary coaches such as Dean Smith (North Carolina), Bob Knight (Indiana), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), John Wooden (UCLA), and others was a dream come true for some. Adding to the rivals of the Big East battles, ACC foes, Big Ten war paths was a badge of honor to wear for the rest of your days.


But then something unexpected took place. A decision was made. It wasn’t the first of its kind, but it hadn’t been seen in many years. 


It had been twenty years since a player joined the professional ranks straight from high school, but another was attempting to do the same – a choice that created long-lasting effects still being felt twenty-five years later.

Photo Credit: SI

Garnett attended Mauldin High School in Mauldin, South Carolina, and played on the school’s basketball team. However, during the summer before his senior year of high school, Garnett was in the general vicinity of a fight between black and white students. Although not directly involved, Garnett was one of three students arrested for second-degree lynching, a charge that was expunged through a pre-trial intervention. Due to the racially charged incident and his fear of being a target, Garnett left Mauldin High and transferred to Farragut Career Academy in Chicago.

Kevin Garnett was looking to become the first player since ’75 taken by the NBA directly from of high school, and it brought up many questions. Why not college? What about tradition? Is a high school player ready for the big leagues? Is this a joke? What’s the NBA coming to? Part of KG’s decision was due to the fact that his poor ACT scores failed to meet NCAA qualifications. (Later, two weeks before the draft, KG passed his final SAT, which would have made him eligible for college had he decided to go that route). But a major motivator that fueled his choice was a simple one: MONEY.


Why spend your time in college living off of campus food and struggling to get by, when you can enjoy the riches of the NBA?


In the mid-’90s, the league was booming into a major global sport thanks to an NBA player who was playing in Chicago for the Bulls at the time (I think we all know of him… some guy named Michael Jordan). Endorsement deals. Shoe contracts. Guaranteed money. Sounds a lot better than exams and door room living… am I right?

Photo Credit: Lakers Daily

The Minnesota Timberwolves selected KG with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, not only breaking the twenty-year gap between high school players chosen in the draft, but also setting the stage for what was to come for future draft picks. In the 1996 NBA Draft, a player from Lower Marion High School in Philadelphia named Kobe Bryant was drafted 12th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, along with Jermaine O’Neal, who the Portland Trail Blazers selected later in that same draft.

The next year, Tracy McGrady was taken by the Toronto Raptors straight from the high school ranks. In the 2000 NBA Draft, the “next KG”, Darius Miles, was the highest selected high school player with the third overall pick to the Los Angeles Clippers. (By this time KG had proven he was one of the best in the NBA as a power forward.)

In 2001, the Washington Wizards selected Kwame Brown first overall, making him the highest selected high school player. Then the crown jewel came in the 2003 NBA Draft as the Cleveland Cavaliers took hometown talent, LeBron James, first overall. The following year, the Orlando Magic took Dwight Howard with the top pick. By 2005, the NBA and the players’ union decided to implement an age restriction on players entering the draft, thus ending the high-school-to-pros wave.


This came with many questions as to why would they decide to make such a ruling.


Sure… not every high school player selected panned out like the names mentioned above, but the same also goes for every college player, so what gives? Well, one of the reasons is veteran players were being dealt the short end of the stick. Why pay an older player who’s established themselves in the NBA when a team can just draft an 18-year-old with the promise of untapped upside and years to grow into a future NBA All-Star?

Many NBA executives felt the game was getting too young and the players’ talent wasn’t mature enough for the NBA. We saw more and more players shift from knowing and using basketball fundamentals to flat out raw athleticism being the foundation of their game. Where would these players’ games have matured for 1-4 years before? In college basketball.

Another reason (and possibly the biggest reason) for this ruling was due to the NCAA Men’s Basketball being dealt a devastating blow to its talent pool. Gone were the days where the top high school players laced their shoes up for a University. Instead they were dealing with the ‘leftover’ talent that didn’t jump to the NBA. The game lacked star players, big names, and the best talent.

TV ratings for college games started to decline; ticket sales weren’t as high as usual; the dynamic had shifted, for better or worse. It was better for the top talent that could now cash in on their skill set at the highest level of the sport. It wasn’t so good for the NCAA as their pockets started to shrink (that’s just something you don’t do). So with the rule change, the hope was that the best players would be on campus before going to the pros, allowing them to be exploited for the greed of college sports.

But it was a bit too late. The cat had been let out of the bag. Once you take it out, it never goes back in the same way. Sure, college teams can use these players like the good old days, but now, thanks to what KG started for the new generation (also Carmelo Anthony), instead of the high school to the NBA era, it became the land of the one and done.


Imagine what college basketball would look like if players hadn’t jumped from HS to the pros?


Photo Credit: SB Nation

Just think of what Kevin Garnett could’ve done for the University of Maryland. (He confirmed this would’ve been his school of choice if he had not gone to the NBA). Imagine what Kobe Bryant could have done if he chose to team up with Vince Carter and Antwan Jamison at UNC. What would LeBron James have accomplished at Ohio State? The ripple effect these players could’ve had on these programs could very well have done wonders for the schools that they would still be feeling to this day. Final Four runs, national titles, help with recruiting, and contract extensions for coaches.

Many would’ve benefited had they just gone about business as usual. But thanks to a kid from Illinois by way of South Carolina, those things didn’t happen. We never got to see the long-standing tradition of the best talent duking it out sporting our team’s favorite colors, playing for “the love of the game.” Instead, we got a new wave of athletes who stopped looking at basketball as a sport and began looking at it as a business. In the end, that’s what sports are. A business.


Today, we see talent like Zion Williams spend just one year on campus before taking his talent to the pros.


We’ve seen others, like Brandon Jennings, decide to go overseas and play professionally for a year before entering the draft. Now we see another trend emerging, as top prospect Jalen Green is skipping college and overseas ball to enter the NBA’s G-League where he will play stateside while being paid. This is another path we will see the top HS talent in the nation take.

Long gone are the days where we see a program like UCLA go on an 88-game win streak, or players such as Christian Laettner become a household name due to their heroics on the college hardwood floors. It was a great ride.. lots of memories, plenty of smiles, loads of heartbreak, and fantastic performances. Those days are not what they used to be but that is part of the evolution of the game. Times are always changing. We may never get back to the way things used to be. Is that, in part, due to Pro Basketball Hall of Famer, Kevin Garnett? We’ll let you decide. 

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-Kalani Lua – Franchise Sports Media

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