Cory Joseph and March Madness

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In a perfect world Cory Joseph would have spent most of this year in Austin, receiving a first class education and preparing for his post-college profession.

Not at the University of Texas, mind you, but with the Austin Toros in the NBA Development League.

But with a series of injuries that would eventually end the playing career of San Antonio Spurs backup point guard T.J. Ford, Joseph was trapped for most of the season in basketball limbo; which apparently exists somewhere on I-35 between San Antonio and Austin.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich likes to say that Joseph has handled the situation well for a sophomore in college, which is where some people believe Cory Joseph should still be.

March Madness is now over, and that ending brings the same life altering decision for its participants as Joseph faced a year ago.

But in some ways, the madness is only beginning. After all, there is the sanctity of college basketball to consider when judging these young athletes for their personal choices.

With Kentucky’s victory we can at long last celebrate the legitimacy of the one and done in college basketball, and there will be those that are resentful for it.

“Calipari has professionalized college sports, which is great for him and good for his recruits. It’s just discomforting for anyone who likes NCAA basketball, assuming they’re drawn to the same game that lives within their memory. He’s built awesome teams for seven consecutive seasons, usually by overhauling his entire roster with transitory superstars who are only attending college because there’s no reasonable alternative. He’s completely up-front about this strategy, and it’s irrefutably effective.

– “Kentucky’s Death March” by Chuck Klosterman, via Grantland

College exists, hypothetically, to prepare students for their future careers. The NCAA is no longer an ideal developmental ground for future basketball players, and the reasons are twofold.

The NCAA as a Business

First, the NCAA has lost all credibility as an institution with its students’ best interests at heart. It is first, foremost, and lastly a business with its eye on the bottom line. It exists to maximize its profits. It does so by maintaining an unpaid workforce that has few alternative options. It would like to keep these unpaid employees around longer so that it may return to putting a quality (in terms of basketball) product on the floor.

Doing so under the guise of an educational institution is a joke.

It’s not unheard of for college students, even those on scholarship, to reach out to prospective employers in hopes of gathering information and gauging interest. In fact, most universities have a career center to encourage such communication.

Yet every year there is one subset of students colleges intentionally subvert from fully exploring their career options. Per new NCAA deadlines, potential draft prospects must now make their decision by April 10, eliminating opportunities to workout with NBA teams and gather information about their draft stock.

“The NCAA has accomplished one preposterous goal: it has denied athletes the chance to work out for NBA teams without surrendering their eligibility. Now, due to the realignment of the NCAA’s deadlines, players must declare their intent to enter the draft before they’re able to work out for (or thereby receive any workout-related feedback from) NBA teams. It’s a spoil the NCAA has taken merely because it can—from a body of athletes who have no real means of representation against a system that laughably claims to have their best interests at heart.”

-Rob Mahoney, Bleacher Report

College basketball players receive scholarships based on a particular skill set not necessarily attributed to their academics, but then, so are artists, musicians, etc., and unless I’m mistaken, those students are free from the restrictions placed upon basketball players.

Again, college basketball is a business. And while it’s successful, an increase in competition (the NBA, its Development League, Overseas, etc.) for its employees—from sources that actually pay their employees—has greatly diluted the quality of its product.

Cory Joseph’s Internship

Would Cory Joseph have been better served staying another year in college? Given the diluted quality of the game, there is a ceiling on how much you can learn from the college game. There are better options available now.

It’s difficult to imagine what Joseph could learn from a game that, in one instance late in its’ showcase tournament, featured a team whose best offensive strategy was a fast break dunk or to throw the ball in the rim’s general direction and hope a teammate could tip in the rebound. Sadly, this isn’t an aberration in the college game.

In the brief glimpses of his rookie season, Joseph proved to be unprepared for the NBA. He did little to even offer a glimpse of a skill set that may someday be useful. But he got the Spurs to give him a guaranteed contract. A paid internship, if you will.

With the Toros, Joseph is not being tasked with winning games to make his coach and school money. His sole purpose is to develop the skills that will make him a long term NBA player. The Spurs, having longer than the next year or two in mind, are invested in his growth.

In a deeper draft, Joseph would have been guaranteed nothing.

Working with the Austin Toros, gaining on the job training in the Spurs system, even if Joseph develops into little more than a fringe player he still retains some NBA value simply for having worked in the Spurs system. That alone could be the difference between keeping an NBA job and going overseas.

And no matter the outcome, he’s likely learned more than he ever could while making money for NCAA executives.

  • Francesco

    “That alone could be the difference between keeping an NBA job and going overseas.” Playing a couple of years abroad should be mandatory: kids would become men and better players for the experience alone

  • Drew

    He seems to be developing well though, I think it was last week or so that he was named player of the week when averaging close to a triple double. Showing some promise. 

  • Tyler

    Yeah, I think everyone is confused as to what the NCAA is trying to accomplish. I have yet to hear an argument that makes sense for any involved. I guess the only angle I can come up with is that coaches know who is and isn’t coming back a few weeks earlier (for recruiting purposes obviously). But then again, this is only going to lead to potentially more uninformed decisions on the part of some players and (not coincidentally) a worse product in college basketball. On the last point, this decision could lead to an even more inferior product (which had been already watered down significantly in the past few years).

    If the NCAA really had athletes’ best interests at heart, I don’t see how they justify this change. 

  • grego

    Not that it says he’s a sure thing, but he’s shown glimpses with the Spurs. And it seems to show he’s learning well, down in Austin. 

  • DorieStreet

    It seems to me  you’re inferring that the NBA should eliminate the “one-year-removed from HS graduating class” requirement to enter the league. I agree with that opinion.
    The league needs to be like MLB—draft graduating HS seniors in your first 2 rounds if you know they will make your team; have 2 additional rounds to pick up guys not quite “top tier” and put them on your DLeague squad (the equivalent of baseball’s minor league affiliates).
    Did Kyrie Irving have to enroll at Duke to play just 11 games for NBA front offices to know he was the top talent after the 2010 baskeball season -HS or college?
    Irving was born in Australia; had his family stayed there and his basketball skills developed just as well (I can hear the chuckles now –AUS vs USA baksetball?!), he could have gone straight into the NBA as an 18 year-old, as American players used to be able to do.

  • Colin

    Its amazing Calipari is allowed to coach.  He has left every school he’s been at a mess.  Umass?  Final four REMOVED and irrelevany.  Memphis?  Loss of scholarships and irrelevancy.

    Kentucky is probably the one place where the school will always be bigger than the coach, which may be his saving grace in the event of any future “mishaps.”  After looking at Calipari’s work, how can he call these guys “student-athletes.” 

  • Len

    It’s a very complicated issue, obviously.  And there really aren’t any easy answers.  At the end of the day, a young person’s education should be the primary focus when trying to figure out the rules.  However, as the money of sports has grown and grown, the corruption and loss of priorities hasn’t been far behind.  Honestly, we as a society pay WAYYYYY too much attention to professional sports and kids skipping an education has become a byproduct of this.  

  • DorieStreet

    Just as many kids forgo higher education to pursue acting, music, “celebrity” status/stunts (being famous for doing nothing constructive or of any value–just sensational/controversial) because we as a society pay way too much to those worlds as well.

  • DorieStreet

    Kentucky has run into NCAA problems and sanctions before Calipari—but you are correct. Just like Jim Harrick (UCLA, Rhode Island, Georgia).  Is he banned from coaching Division I basketball programs?

  • http://twitter.com/nudityJ Nudity J. Fandango

    “Honestly, we as a society pay WAYYYYY too much attention to professional sports and kids skipping an education has become a byproduct of this”.
    If only the NCAA was actually a professional sport none of this would even be an argument.

    Theres no payment for the workforce, they are utilised to make cash without any representation.

  • DorieStreet

    This goes way back to the 1930′s (football). The athletes who accept the scholarship know the deal–especially over the last 40 years (growth of all college sports).
    There’s an old saying: don’t let (insert college sport) use you—use the college sport.”
    Opportunites are there for the athlete-student to further themselves by obtaining degress that are intrinsic with their collegiate sport:  coaching; athletic administration; public relations; sports media; sports medicine.
    But the NCAA /schools could improve the current situation by providing more funds to the athletes in certain situations (emergencies, travel to games for parents/guardians, etc).

  • DorieStreet

    The NBA and college basketball don’t work together. The NFL and college football do, because they have to. I don’t care how physically gifted or accomplished high school football players are these days, 99.999% could not make  an NFL roster the summer after they graduate. The NFL is not going to take on the astronomical costs of creating a farm system like MLB when the nation’s college football programs has done it for them for nearly a century.

  • Len

    But student-athletes shouldn’t be viewed as a “workforce”.  Know why?  Because they are STUDENT-athletes.  As the business of the NCAA has grown, this has become completely lost.

  • Tyler

    A related point – coaches have the ability to jump from job to job (sometimes leaving their programs in dire straits like you point out) without any repercussions, while athletes have little to no such ability. And don’t give me the argument that an athlete commits to a school/university, and not to a coach. I don’t believe anyone ever recruited to play any sport at any level would buy that.

  • Tim in Surrey

    The idea behind this change is that it has been difficult for those who AREN’T turning professional, as well as the coaches. The ACC coaches, who proposed the change, described it as having their teams held hostage before they could know whether they had to recruit a player or not–and when they did find out, it was so late in the game that it caused unnecessary pressure on the recruit, the coaches, and the teams. And there are a number of cases (e.g. UCLA) of teams being surprised by a number of defections and having to scramble to be able to field a team. In UCLA’s case the argument is that it has severely damaged the team because they had to hurriedly recruit players who were not really suitable for their program. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s the argument.

    The change itself, though, is really not that drastic when you think about it. It’s actually a slight improvement over where things were about 10 years ago. Tim Duncan, for instance, never had ANY opportunity to be evaluated by the NBA. He either had to declare early and lose his eligibility… or not. The NCAA allowed the “testing the waters” policy for a while, but found that it caused too many problems, so they’ve severely curtailed it. Yet players are still able to get a solid evaluation from the NBA office of what their prospects are before making the decision, which is something that wasn’t available in the past. 

    The one big difference versus 10 years ago is that the NBA is now unwilling to draft players straight out of high school. In the past guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, or LeBron James could turn pro immediately, but since 2005 the NBA has forced them to wait a year. So really the change is overblown and, in my opinion, the real injustice is still on the NBA. The NCAA doesn’t prevent you from making a living playing basketball. Ever. They simply don’t want you to compete as a collegian unless you meet their guidelines. The NBA, however, refuses to consider employing you until a year after your high school class has graduated (even if you’ve dropped out).

  • Tim in Surrey

    Uhhh… I went to Vanderbilt and had to pay something like $80,000 to do so. This was way back in the Pleistocene Era, of course, so it’s a lot more expensive to study there now. If you remember Jeff Turner, who played on the ’84 Olympic team and for many years for the Nets and Pacers, he lived on my freshman hall. He was a decent student, but nothing special academically, yet he got a Vanderbilt degree for free. Considering the hours he put in, $20,000 per year for a part-time job was really good pay in those days. So I wouldn’t say there was no payment for the work force.

  • Tim in Surrey

    It actually goes back way, way further than that. It was the Roosevelt administration (not FDR, but Teddy!) that first stepped in to clean up the corrupt and violent mess that had become of intercollegiate athletics. Even though, over a hundred years ago, Harvard and Yale had been bringing in comically unsuitable “students” for decades, just to gain an advantage on the football field.

  • Tim in Surrey

    That’s the NCAA’s argument. The “student-athlete” term is one they coined as a defense for problems. It’s a brilliant bit of hypocrisy: You claim they’re students so you don’t have to observe their rights as athletes and you claim they’re athletes so you don’t have to observe their rights as students. I teach in England these days and everybody over here is absolutely mystified about what goes on with the NCAA and sports at American universities. The utter strangeness of it is spectacular if you take an external point of view. We have sports, too, but it’s strictly at the club level. The only concession we make is that we can’t schedule anything for Wednesday afternoons because that time is set aside for athletics. About the heaviest it gets is when schools like Oxford and Cambridge get heavily into their boat racing. But truthfully they care more about, and make as many concessions for, University Challenge (essentially the UK’s version of the “College Bowl” quiz competition) as they do for athletics. In fact, University Challenge is regularly televised here, but athletic events aren’t. Ever. So none of this is in any way necessary. It has just taken on a life of its own over the years.

  • Tim in Surrey

    “Even then”, that is.