Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Just last week, Louisville and Michigan were playing one of the most entertaining NCAA Tournament championship games in years. Luke Hancock was scorching threes, Kevin Ware was blissfully crutching his way around a confetti-drenched Georgia Dome, and Spike Albrecht was tweeting at Kate Upton. College basketball was just wrapping up another fantastic season. And now, just a week after the final game of the year, some of the nation’s top players have an utterly crucial decision to make: Stay in school or declare for the NBA Draft?
Decisions like this – decisions that could have lasting implications on a player’s earning power and academic and professional futures – are not trivial matters to be pushed aside. Other than maybe choosing a college, deciding when to leave college and pursue one’s athletic dreams at the professional level is probably the biggest decision any of these kids have ever made. It requires calculated reasoning and a thorough investigation of the potential costs and benefits. This isn’t the case for everyone; some guys have it easy. For Shabazz Muhammad, leaving UCLA after one season will go down as one of the least surprising one-and-done jumps of all-time. Others face competing interests, unwavering loyalties and strong ties to teammates and coaches. Some just love being in college, particularly at “basketball schools” where the hardwood practitioners are afforded demi-god levels of celebrity. What’s so bad about unrivaled popularity and social stature, anyway?
The real process is a lot more complicated than that. Financial hardship often forces players to leave school earlier than they otherwise would have. A hot shooting streak during the NCAA Tournament sends them flying up draft boards, rapidly and prominently enough that not entering the draft could leave a prospect regretting a major missed opportunity after the fact.