Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) guard Jarrod Polson (3) and guard Andrew Harrison (5) celebrate during the game against the NC-Asheville Bulldogs at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated NC-Asheville 89-57. (USA TODAY Sports: Mark Zerof)
CHICAGO — The Champions Classic on Tuesday at United Center showcased three elite freshmen — Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kentucky big man Julius Randle — who could go from teen sensations to top-five draft picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The history of one-and-dones in college basketball is varied. The four-year college All-American is a rarity, but current NBA players who weighed similar stay-or-go dilemmas are in the best position to offer advice to tomorrow’s NBA All-Stars, speaking from the pedestal of first-hand experience.
The Sports Xchange team correspondents asked NBA players what advice they would offer college freshmen seeking direction on the decision to declare for the NBA or stay in the college game:
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, who left UCLA after one season: “Well, if it’s Andrew Wiggins, he already said, ‘It’s one year and I’m leaving.’ I’d just say take your time, enjoy college. There are a lot of times where I wish it would have made sense for me to go back. But right now, I’d say, ‘Hey, it’s early. Enjoy yourself. Listen to your coaches. Enjoy college and just enjoy the ride.’”
Memphis Grizzlies swingman Quincy Pondexter, who played four years at the University of Washington and is in his fourth NBA season: “For me, leaving early wasn’t the best thing. My body wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready. But those guys, I’ve seen them play. Some of them are ready. They’re gonna have to deal with a lot of things coming their way. When you become a professional, you have to take care of yourself off the court and on the court. It’s a lot of responsibility. You don’t know what it’s like until you get here. It takes so much maturing. And being on a good (NBA) team makes it so hard to break into a lineup.”
Charlotte Bobcats rookie forward Cody Zeller, who spent three seasons at Indiana University: “It depends on what their motives are, if they need the money or not. For me, education was a big deal. It depends on what stage of life they are at or if they enjoy college. I would tell them to be thorough and not to listen to the outsiders or the fans and to stay close to your inner circle.”
Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay, who left the University of Connecticut after his sophomore season: “Take your time. Take your time, it’ll be there when you get ready. It’s always beneficial (to spend more time in college). Maturity is very important, especially in a business like this. It’s definitely a different environment, different culture, and a lot of things thrown at you. You have to be ready for it. The schedule, temptation.”
Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, who played three years at the University of Florida and played on back-to-back national championship teams in 2006 and ‘07: “The biggest thing I’d want to know from him is where is he mentally? You are talking about a huge change. Not just the physical demands that come from the schedule, but the lifestyle and the challenges and the discipline. So you have to be in the right place mentally to take all that on. So I’d want to know from the kid is whether he has a good head on his shoulders, and whether he’s thought about those things. If he does have that good head, and it is something he’s given thought to and he feels like he’s ready to take on those challenges, then I’d tell him to go for it.”
San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph, who left the University of Texas after one year and spent parts of his rookie season in the NBA Development League after being drafted 29th overall in 2011: “I don’t regret doing anything. I knew the opportunity I had. Leaving, I knew the opportunities I had leaving behind. I sat down with my family. I made a strong decision for myself and for my family. I don’t regret anything. But I would just tell the kid, I mean, obviously do what he thinks is right for him and his family. But also speak to people to know what he’s doing.”
Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green, who played three seasons at Georgetown University: “It’s not the same for every player. I guess it just depends on the player and the situation and what best fits him. There’s not a specific thing you can say in this situation but, ‘Good luck on whatever your decision may be.’ I can’t answer that for every freshman that wants to come in and play in the NBA. It just depends … on the one year you’ve had, or anything. It’s different for each person.”
Toronto Raptors forward Landry Fields, who attended Stanford University for four years: “If they think they’re ready and they want to make a career out of it, go ahead. The thing is there’s a maturing process whether (or not) you’re a one-year guy. I was a four-year guy, and I still had a maturing year my rookie year. That’s the way it is. It might be more for them, but there’s still a maturing process. It’s a business. You’re on your own, you have to live it and breathe it. You’ve got guys with families and they’re fighting for a spot and a job, and they’re always after you.”