Court in Session: Top recruits are starting to spurn the NCAA, and that might be a good thing

Jalen Green, ESPN’s top 2020 high school basketball prospect in the country, announced Thursday that he would forego a college basketball career to sign a $500,000 G League contract instead. Green’s decision to monetize his talents is seemingly a crushing blow for the NCAA, which has been considered the best option for top prospects since the one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006. 

But if more high-profile prospects follow Green’s lead and spurn the NCAA, college basketball might just return back to what made the league so great in the first place.

Green’s decision to play in the G League did not occur in a vacuum. In recent years, due to the emergence of high school prospects who are more physically gifted and possess more developed skill sets than ever before, a groundswell of support has emerged in opposition to the one-and-done rule.

When the NBA’s efforts to abolish the rule stalled last year, Commissioner Adam Silver, who has vocally opposed the rule, spearheaded the creation of $500,000 Select G League contracts intended to attract the nation’s top prospects. 

Green’s decision to pursue a Select Contract might mark the beginning of a broader trend. Only one day after his decision, No. 14 prospect Isaiah Todd joined Green and decommitted from the University of Michigan to sign his own Select Contract.

Since news of Green’s decision to sign a G League contract broke, much has been made about the tension between the NBA, which has a vested interest in securing the rights to top prospects right after their high school graduation, and the NCAA, which has openly defended the one-and-done rule and depends on one-and-done players for its high-end talent. 

“I think the NBA is doing it as a big middle finger to the NCAA,” an anonymous NBA agent said per Yahoo Sports. “This is how it’s going to be, we’re going to take control of the development of top players.”

However, rather than dwelling on the highly rated players that college basketball will lose out on, the NCAA and its fans should welcome the decline of one-and-done prospects who play college basketball for a single season and then depart as soon as they are eligible for the NBA.

The players who make the greatest contributions to the sport aren’t the prospects who pass in and out of the college ranks for one year at a time but those who commit themselves to a program for multiple years.

In terms of players’ talent level and the pure quality of basketball, college hoops will never be able to compete with the NBA no matter how many talented high school players come through. Instead, what makes college basketball special and what appeals most to its millions of fans across the country is a combination of school spirit, tradition and passion.

Players’ affiliation to the school name on the front of their jerseys will always resonate with fans more than the star power of the last name on the back. Though UCLA is often not the best or most talented opponent on USC’s basketball schedule, the emotion and tradition associated with the crosstown rivalry make it the most attended game at Galen Center every year. 

Though college basketball’s top-end talent would suffer if high school prospects moved en masse to the G League, the intangible features of college basketball that sustain the sport — tradition and fandom — would continue. If anything, due to increased continuity on college basketball teams’ rosters, they might even be enhanced. 

Despite the fact that a few prolific one-and-done players have passed through USC, those who have had the greatest impact on USC basketball are the four-year players that Trojan fans watched steadily improve during their USC careers. I’m talking Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Jonah Mathews and Nick Rakocevic. These players embody college basketball’s success, and with more players like them, college basketball might get even better. 

Jake Mequet is a junior writing about sports and law. His column, “Court in Session,” typically ran every other Monday.