Jon Scheyer isn’t fretting over the potential end of the so-called “One And Done (OAD)” rule, which required players to be one year removed from high school to be eligible for the NBA Draft.
Yet, some Duke fans are, and for understandable reasons. Since the Blue Devils won the National Championship in 2015 led by OADs Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justice Winslow, most Duke teams have been buoyed by the presence of freshmen who would soon become NBA draft picks. While Duke teams since that season have rarely been the most experienced, the deepest, or even the most cohesive, they’ve had more raw talent on the floor in most matchups, leading to sustained success.
Now, some fans worry, the end of the OAD rule will minimize the talent differential Duke has cultivated and cause headaches on the recruiting trail for Scheyer.
But history tells us that’s likely an overreaction. From 1995 to 2005, when high schoolers were eligible for the NBA draft, just 39 players were drafted straight from high school. In the 2005 draft, the last in which high schoolers were eligible, the second overall pick was North Carolina freshman Marvin Williams, with two more sophomores drafted in the Top 10. In 2004, Duke’s Luol Deng went No. 7 overall as a freshman, and another freshman, Kris Humphries, went at No. 14.
Obviously, the basketball landscape has changed tremendously in the nearly two decades since Dwight Howard was picked No. 1 overall straight from high school. Development at the high school and AAU levels has improved, and more freshmen are starring at the college level. But those worrying over the effect of OAD’s end on Duke seem to be assuming that most 5* caliber talents, ready to make an immediate impact at the ACC level, will go straight to the NBA draft. That didn’t happen when high schoolers were last eligible for the draft, and likely won’t happen again.
True, Duke is unlikely to see transcendent talents at the level of Zion Williamson and Paolo Banchero in this potential future. But many of these types of players have begun eschewing college basketball anyway with the advent of the G-League Ignite, Overtime Elite, and success of players like LaMelo Ball who played a year overseas.
Many others might not have earned their lofty draft status without a year of proving themselves at the college level. As one example, Brandon Ingram went No. 2 overall in 2016 after a year at Duke, having shown that his lanky frame didn’t hinder him against top competition; he likely wouldn’t have been drafted nearly that high as a high schooler in 2015 without that proof of principle.
Then there’s the harsh reality of the G-League, where most high schoolers who aren’t top picks will likely find themselves once drafted. G-League games are played in half-empty gyms, often in less than desirable locations. The draw of playing in packed stadiums on ESPN broadcasts, with the added possibility of boosting one’s draft stock, will still sway some top talents. NIL is a new variable that will benefit the college game, as well.
The reality is, even when high schoolers are once again eligible for the NBA draft, it’s more likely that the number of drafted high schoolers each year is in the single rather than double digits. Those who go directly to the draft will likely fall in one of two categories: those who are already Top-10 locks with little room to improve their draft stock, and those who have no interest in the “college” part of college basketball. Both types of players should have every right to pursue their career as they so choose.
That will still leave plenty of hyper-talented players for the recruiting machine that Scheyer is creating to draw into Cameron, and increase the likelihood that those players might be inclined to stay multiple years at Duke. There will be an increased risk of investing time into players who go straight to the draft, but that has already happened with players who have chosen to eschew college. Change will come, but it will be manageable, not earth-shattering.