Last year’s draft class received heaps of praise for being the strongest class since 2003 when stars such as LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were drafted. This season it turns out that besides Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and arguably Nikola Mirotic (who is actually twenty four-years-old and spent several seasons playing professionally in Spain before getting drafted) the class has not been particularly impressive. With the 2015 NCAA tournament in full gear, fans are already clamoring for their teams to select the likes of Duke’s Justise Winslow, Kentucky’s Trey Lyles and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
The problem with getting too excited over players who are stars in the NCAA Tournament is that the college game is drastically different than that of the NBA. NBA competition is bigger, stronger, faster and better in general. Defenses and offenses are run in a different fashion since the courts are wider and there is a Defensive 3-Second violation in the NBA (which means NBA teams cannot play a zone defense where they leave a center or forward right under the hoop, NBA teams generally end up playing man-to-man defense). The NBA schedule is also more rigorous since there are 82 regular season games, which are all 48 rather than 40 minutes long as in college.
Psychologically, players who have grown accustomed to being the best player on the court for most of their lives have to come to grips with the fact that they are no longer in such a position. A first-round draft pick was probably the best player on his high school team, if not his entire state, and the best player on his college team. When bad NBA teams such as the Sacramento Kings draft college stars like Nik Stauskas (eighth overall draft pick in 2014 from University of Michigan), these players are expected to contribute immediately to the success of their team, even if they might require several years to develop. Stauskas was a star for Michigan during their NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight last year. The dictionary definition of “hype” is extravagant or intense publicity or promotion. Hype can apply to all sorts of things such as upcoming movies or music, new products and especially to athletics. The fans and media seem to always be searching for the next great team or player and tend to build up their expectations to unreasonable levels. For many people about there, this Cleveland Cavaliers season will be a bust if the team does not at least make the NBA Finals. Football fans, especially those who support the Cleveland Browns, let the hype get the best of them when the team drafted former Texas A&M phenom with the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL draft. In the few games that he has played in, Johnny Manziel has looked terrible, and he is currently spending time in rehabilitation for his alcohol and drug addictions.
The case of Johnny Manziel is a classic example of a young college athlete failing to live up to the expectations set by the media and fans when he reaches the professional level. Hype is no less prevalent in basketball, where players are able to enter the NBA as soon as they are one year removed from high school. It is commonplace these days for the first round of the NBA draft to be filled with 18 and 19-year-old athletes who are not even able to purchase alcohol legally. These young men are then expected to quickly transition from one season of Division I basketball to the rigours of playing an 82 game NBA schedule against the best players in the world. Players who managed to stay under the radar during the regular season are now the center of attention due to the wild popularity surrounding the NCAA Tournament. A couple of great performances during the postseason can greatly enhance an athlete’s draft stock, along with the expectations of fans and team personnel executives around the league.
Players such as Johnny Flynn, Adam Morrison and Shabazz Napier have all had lackluster professional basketball careers after having outstanding performances in the NCAA Tournament that brought them into the national spotlight. In the NCAA Tournament last year, Shabazz Napier put up an incredible performance and managed to lead the UConn Huskies in an improbable run to the finals where they managed to defeat a star-studded Kentucky University Wildcats team. Napier, who at the time was a senior, received praise from various media members, coaches and even celebrities including LeBron James who tweeted “My favorite player in the draft! #Napier.” Many observers praised Napier’s veteran leadership and his “will to win.” The funny thing about labeling an athlete with characteristics such as the “will to win” or the “it” factor is that they are completely meaningless. Napier now comes off the bench for a bad Miami Heat team where he averages around five points and is shooting poorly. What happened to his “will to win?” Stauskas is currently playing about fifteen minutes per game for a terrible Sacramento Kings team. In those fifteen minutes, he is averaging 4.3 points and shooting a mediocre 36.4% from the floor. Despite being selected within the first ten picks of what was supposed to be a historically talented draft, Stauskas is making minor contributions on a struggling Kings team with little hope for the future.
The media and fans really need to learn to temper their expectations about Tournament stars coming into the draft. Too much hype will just leave you disappointed.