Sports Take: G League path hurts college basketball’s one-and-done strategy

Duke's Wendell Moore Jr. (0) pressures North Carolina State's Jericole Hellems (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

By Marquis Cooley | Reporter

Baylor and Gonzaga have been dominating college hoops so far this season, being the only two undefeated teams with less than a month until the NCAA tournament. While those two teams have flourished this season, the blue bloods of college basketball have been struggling.

Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina are historically the four best programs in college basketball, yet as we near the NCAA tournament, none of them are ranked in the top 25. While things such as COVID-19 are a factor for their struggles, the biggest reason for their downfall this season is the NBA’s new G League pathway program which allows the top high school prospects to play against NBA level talent in the G League for one season while getting paid before entering the NBA draft.

In the past decade, to help stay ahead of the competition, blue bloods have embraced the one-and-done philosophy in which they recruit the top prospects out of high school and get one season out of them before they go on to the NBA. Some of the most notable in recent years have been Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson. Now these high school players who feel as though they are destined for the NBA can get paid a year earlier than they would if they went to college.

In only its first season, we have already seen the effects of the new pathways program. Headlined by Jalen Greene, four of the top 20 recruits from the 2020 recruiting class turned down offers from blue bloods to join the G League Ignite team along with draft prospects from overseas.

This trend will continue if the NCAA continues to not pay their student athletes. For top prospects, the perks of playing in the G League outweighs those of college. They get to play with and learn from NBA veterans as well as receive coaching and training from an NBA-level staff.

On top of that, they can focus solely on basketball and getting paid instead of going to classes and the stresses of being a college student. This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to get an education. Through a partnership with Arizona State University, the prospects will receive scholarships to attend the university online if they decide to get their degree or go through a graduate program.

While the G League pathway program won’t be the end of college basketball, it’ll definitely change who the top teams are. As more players that are NBA level talents straight out of high school bypass playing in college, teams that rely on the one-and-done philosophy won’t be nearly as successful. The new top programs will be those that retain and develop their talent for three or four years, which we are witnessing this season.

The current top three ranked teams, Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan, are all known for keeping their players for multiple seasons. Michigan and Gonzaga only have one freshman in their starting lineup while Baylor doesn’t have any. The majority of the roster for each of these three schools is made up of upperclassmen.

There is a new era emerging in college basketball, and this era will be defined by the schools with experienced players, not the one-and-dones.