Since 2006, the NBA has placed an age limit on the draft, forcing most league hopefuls to play at least one year of college basketball before making the professional leap. Contributors to ESPN The Magazine reached out to 39 NBA players and revisted their decisions to leave school prematurely for the NBA. Four members of the Sacramento Kings shared their thoughts.
J.J. Hickson (2008, NC State)
”Looking back at it, I think that year was very helpful to me. I learned a lot of things under coach Sidney Lowe. He coached in the league so he runs like a league offense and he coached like a coach in the NBA, so I learned a lot from him. And I gotta say college helped me a lot with my transition. I got bigger, faster, stronger, I learned a lot about the game of basketball.”
Donté Greene (2008, Syracuse)
“I would stay in school one more year. I love Syracuse, bleed orange, still go back, love the city, love the fans. I would’ve stayed one more year and been with Jonny [Flynn], Scoop [Jardine] and Rick [Jackson], and all the guys. I think we would’ve won a national championship for sure. Those guys went far, but I would’ve gotten them over the hump. Just being able to be young and not have responsibilities … once you leave college, it’s real life out there. You have bills. You have responsibilities. Not saying I wasn’t ready, but it would’ve been nice to have another year to be a kid. That said, I’m still in the league, still getting paid. There are guys from my class, at my position, that are out of the league right now and fighting to get back in. Guys that were drafted ahead of me.”
Tyreke Evans (2009, Memphis)
“I was talking to my brothers. They were the ones who pretty much helped me with my decision to go to school, so after my season at Memphis, which I thought I had a great year, we sat down and talked: Should I leave or not? We came to an agreement that it was okay for me to leave, a good time. I had a good chance of being a top pick. We sat down as a family and said: Let’s do it. And that’s what happened. I got drafted No. 4. It was a great moment for me.”
DeMarcus Cousins (2010, Kentucky)
“I was in middle school when the rule came about. When I first learned about it, I had mixed opinions. In a way, it’s good because a kid needs that college experience — to go through those changes and being closer to being an adult and learn that responsibility at the college level. At the same time, I don’t believe the rule should be put in place because it’s predicting somebody else’s life — you should be able to make your own path because you never know what that person’s situation may be at home or with their family. By the end of my first year in college, I was seriously thinking about coming back. I loved playing for Kentucky so it was a tough decision but at the end of the day, I had to do what’s best for me and my family.”
The players they interviewed for this story make up roughly 10 percent of the NBA and many of them are still under the age of 25. Think about recent college grads, those who have graduated in the five years since the NBA implemented the age restriction. A lot of them are underemployed, struggling to find jobs in their fields of study. Maybe Cousins and others who think the NBA should do away with the age restriction have a point.