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Gabriel Frankel Headshot

Honorable Role Models in College Basketball? No Way

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Anthony Davis, the most talented player coming out of college basketball, is projected as the first pick in this year's NBA draft, having left the University of Kentucky after one year of school. Davis became the latest in a long list of "one and done" players over the years who have played one year of college before heading to the professional basketball. Mr. Davis had a lot of incentive to leave for the pros, from an NBA contract to marketing deals and the chance to make a big impact on the game, coming off a national championship with UK. Despite his tremendous achievements, I'm very disappointed with his decision not to continue his education. In doing so, he abandoned the values and drive that got him to such a high level in basketball.

No doubt, getting a thorough education has a much larger impact on a person's values and individuality throughout life than playing in the pros ever does. Mr. Davis valued his education for most of his life. In fact, before he became the center of college scouts' attention, Davis was a hard-working student from South Chicago who chose to attend high school at Perspectives Charter School, the award-winning Near South Side school designed by Chicago architect Ralph Johnson. The school doesn't even have a gym -- the athletes practiced and played their games at a nearby technical school, and the team had a losing record. Simply put, Davis went there for the academics and to grow as a student. I worry (out of the worst circumstances possible) for Mr. Davis that fame will get to his head or a serious injury/lack of development in college basketball will result in an unfilled career. If the game doesn't work out for him, what other options does he have to purse?

If it were up to me, every basketball player in NCAA would be required to complete four years of an undergraduate education. Our nation's students are testing much lower than they should be in math, writing, and reading comprehension. For example, in a recent study, U.S. 15-year-olds finished 25th out of 34 developed countries in math. That's shameful. If this country wants to keep jobs from leaving this country, we need all of our students getting a complete education. No excuses.

These college basketball players have no intention to get a degree at school. College for these players at NCAA Division I schools is simply a gateway to professional sports. The basketball players at Duke, for example, often do not take or attend the demanding academic classes that a majority of the Univeristy's students take on. And Duke is only one of many examples of schools that do this. The fact of the matter is that the NCAA has become a major marketing tool that has become "fat and lazy." Content with the money that they're bringing in annually from the universities and sponsors across America, the NCAA no longer represents the values of integrity and transparency that they once did.

Over the years, there have been several successful collegiate players who have gone on to the pros, like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Surely, these starts will make millions of dollars over their careers from contracts, sponsors, etc. But not every "one and done" player in college is necessarily going to be a star. There have been several "one and done" players over the years in the NBA who have had great college careers but have struggled greatly in the NBA, where the competition is a lot tougher. Suddenly, the given player is desperately looking for a stint to play ball in Europe or China, or in the worse case situation, the player has to leave professional basketball because teams have no interest in signing him.

What happens to players who have career-threatening injuries, like Jay Williams of the Chicago Bulls or Brandon Roy of the Portland Trail Blazers? If they don't have a legitimate college education behind them, what are their options? NBA players simply can't rely on their careers to carry them financially throughout their lives. And don't get me started on all the high school players back in the day that went straight to the NBA (can't do that any more thanks to recent NBA rule), like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant. Sure, they are stars, but what kind of example are they setting for millions of American children who look up to these mega-stars? If these players see themselves as role models, they should be setting the example that education is important for every American student.

Even though the "one and done" college players are partly to blame for the situation, they're not the only ones to point the finger at. The media, marketers, coaches and "experts" put so much pressure on these players to go pro. And sometimes, these players don't know who to turn to because it's unclear who has their true interests at heart. If these players are to get a college degree, it's to be able to make strong independent financial and moral decisions so that they aren't taken advantage of (especially financially) throughout their careers.

The NBA needs to take steps to encourage collegiate basketball players to earn their degrees. For example, they could raise the average starting salary (same amount of years) of rookie players who graduate from college. Another smart move would to be for the NBA to pay off any remaining college tuition bills once the player has graduated from college and been drafted. Finally, the NBA could make a great gesture by offering any NBA player who graduated from college health and life insurance for the rest of his life in case an NBA career doesn't work out talent-wise, or in the event of a career-threatening injury.

Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari and NBA commissioner David Stern have recently voiced their discontent over the "one and done" popularity in college basketball. It's a nice first step, but it's not enough. Until more pressure is put on the collegiate and professional basketball associations, this shortcut to the pros will continued to be exploited. It's time for college basketball players to complete their education, no matter what their future prospects are, for the sake of themselves and American education.

Anthony Davis had the chance to make a real impact on the NBA and the youth of America. He decided to let the NBA capitalize on his talent when he could have continued to attend the University of Kentucky, fine-tuning his skills and building on his education and emotional growth. Mr. Davis blew the opportunity. But I hope that one day there will be a college player with talent like Anthony Davis who will decide to continue his collegiate education. Soon other collegiate players will follow. This first player is will captivate the country's heart, and slowly but surely, carry the message of the importance of a strong American education on his shoulders. Now that player is my role model.