Commentary: Bob Knight was out-of-line about Kentucky, wrong on NBA Draft process

Over the weekend, Bob Knight stood in front of a microphone and put himself in the news.

While speaking at an event in Wabash, Knight questioned the academic integrity of five former Kentucky Wildcats.

“Kentucky (during the 2009-10 season) started five players in the NCAA tournament games that had not been to class that semester,” Knight said.

Wrong. Irresponsibly wrong.

For one thing, Patrick Patterson, a junior, graduated after the semester in question. Yes, in three years. Another, John Wall, made the honor roll. A third, DeMarcus Cousins, Tweeted that he went to class and “finished out strong.”

Also, Knight knows enough to know that no school, even Kentucky, would take the APR hit (and the likely reduction in scholarships) from having five players flunk their last semester on campus.

Whatever Knight’s motives were, the execution was wrong and unfairly accused five kids who did nothing but take part in the system created for them.

Four of the five were one-and-dones, playing just one year in college before entering the NBA, and that seemed to really be Knight’s problem.

In the same speech, he suggested that the NCAA adopt the same rule for men’s basketball as it has for baseball: become a professional before entering college, or wait until after your junior season.

Knight is not the first to come up with such a suggestion, and he will not be the last.

But it is an attempt at fixing a system that is not broken. What it does is allow for individual decisions.

Harrison Barnes can decide to come back to North Carolina in order to win a national championship and strengthen his legacy, while Josh Selby can decide one uneven year at Kansas was enough and declare for the NBA Draft.

The desire to provide financial security for their families has a different sense of urgency, and that played a role in the decision-making process – Barnes comes from a solid home in Iowa, while Selby was raised by a single mother in the rougher parts of Baltimore.

This, honestly, is the way it should be. Every situation is different, and for someone to sit in an office in the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and make a decision that education is more valuable than supporting a family for an arbitrary period of time is ignorance on a dangerous level.

Yes, Bob, Kentucky does benefit from one-and-done prospects – the 2011 recruiting class will be No. 1 for the third year in a row, and it stands to reason that we’ll be talking about many of those prospects in 365 days and wondering whether they will see a sophomore season in Lexington.

But what is wrong with that? College basketball has survived and even flourished despite some programs actively recruiting likely one-and-done prospects.

The class you chose to single out did not make the Final Four. This year’s team did, but the national championship game starred a three-time academic All-American (Butler’s Matt Howard) and a guy who will graduate in three years (UConn’s Kemba Walker).

That seems to be indicative of a system that is not broken. But if that were the case, there would be precious little moral high ground to falsely lay claim to.

35 comments

  1. I basically agree with your point – context matters when young people decide whether to go to work or college. College certainly isn’t for everyone. And I give you credit for taking on Bob Knight here. But Kentucky’s current situation with Calipari does seem problematic as UK is functioning as one-and-done factory when looking at the rest of college athletics. I’m not going to defend Bob Knight, but major college athletic programs that function as NBA development leagues are serving a very different function than the schools themselves. It just seems like there’s a conflict of interest there that runs at an existential level, even with the financial issues set aside.
    Also, you may have picked a bad example from UConn – Kemba Walker just said that he had only just finished a book from cover-to-cover for the very *first* time. Not exactly a “shining moment” for college athletics.

  2. Hugh, you questioned Bob Knight…I can get off the hot seat for my Wilson comments now because you might get stalked after writing the above, haha!

  3. Great column.

    While no one hates Kaintuck more than I do, Knight is either a liar or an idiot.

    Be prepared for the Bob-worshipers to come after you in full force.

  4. Bob has a lot of good to say, but in this case, Dustin was absolutely spot on, and I admire his courage to be so direct about it.

    I once heard someone make the following point about ethnic identities: the farther people get from them, the more they cling to them. Thus we see people who are 1/16th Irish get clovers and “Irish Pride” tatooes.

    The same can be said of Knight. The farther we get from his days, the more we romanticize and forget about the negative parts.

  5. Hugh,

    If the UK players went to class, it’s an indefensible statement by Knight.

    But to suggest Knight’s attack on one-and-done ignores individual choice is silly. Knight (a guy I don’t love; I’m too young a Hoosier fan for him to mean much to me other than first round exits) suggested the baseball system where Josh Selby could have gone straight to the NBA after high school, avoiding toiling away for even a year at Kansas while his mother struggled back home.

    “…for someone to sit in an office in the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and make a decision that education is more valuable than supporting a family for an arbitrary period of time is ignorance on a dangerous level.” You realize Knight’s suggestion is the one that would allow a player the option of foregoing college for an “arbitrary period of time” (1 year), yes? Be careful, ignorance can be dangerous.

  6. thinking,

    Not every guy is ready after one year, or doesn’t believe there is value in him attending college – if only for one season. The NBA instituted the one-and-done rule, not the NCAA. I’d argue that rule should be repealed, because you have a right to earn a living at any point in your life. The one-and-done rule, like the proposed high school-or-three years rule, takes away that.

  7. ^^^^^ I should clarify: I support your “shame on Knight” argument for his lying, just not your characterization of what the baseball system would mean for these kids.

  8. Guess what– going to class and finishing their classes are mutually exclusive. Knight was talking about going to class not taking a final exam spoon fed by a tutor. Knight should have focused on the UK one and dones and excluded Patterson and others not in that category.

    I doubt the freshmen continued going to class, but I believe they finished their courses . Knight required weekly reports from players instructors on attendance because attending class showed discipline– something most college freshmen do not necessarily have.

  9. Come on, Hugh.

    It’s fine to criticize Knight, and it’s fine to defend UK, and it’s fine to support the NBA age limit.

    But to say that the NBA age limit (or, “the one and done rule”) “allow[s] for individual decisions” is willfully disingenuous.

    What “individual decisions” did Harison Barnes or Josh Selby have last year? Why was Kobe Bryant able to make an “individual decision” but Eric Gordon wasn’t? As Knight proposes it, players like Barnes and Selby would certainly have an “individual decision,” but it would come a year earlier. Somebody sitting in NCAA and NBA headquarters has already decided to strip them of that decision, so any appeal to a player’s freedom of decision is moot here.

    Just to be clear: I don’t support the age limit or the one-and-done mentality that it fosters. Nor do I think that fixing it is quite as simple as adopting the baseball rule. I would just like you to approach the problem with a more forthright acknowledgment of its complexity.

    You’ve ignored too much of the issue here–just as much as Bob Knight did–and that is disappointing.

  10. Knight was also wrong about the baseball rule. It’s three years or 21 years of age and you are eligible for the draft while in college

  11. Hugh:

    I think the “not ready” part is valid, but he did suggest the NBA would nead some farm system (expanded D-League maybe?). If you think that couldn’t provide a sufficient developmental opportunity for those guys who declare out of high school I concede that you may have a fair point.

    Whether the NBA, as opposed to the NCAA, has a right to impose an “X years of college required” rule is a wholly different matter. Of course they do. A huge number of professions–and practically all of those that pay comparably to the NBA–require folks to achieve some degree of education. They have every right to do so. Some may require a degree to attain some technical knowledge, others often generally require “a college degree” or prefer an advanced degree because they assume those accomplishments say something about socialization, intellectual and emotional maturity, etc.

    In a profession largely dependent on public image/goodwill of fans where employees are regularly interacting with media, the public, or otherwise in front of a camera, I think the NBA has every right to impose such a requirement.

  12. Wrong, irresponsibly wrong. Do you mean your response? b/c Knight clearly said the year BEFORE last while you talk about last years players. You got the wrong year!

    How irresponsible is that?

  13. No, he didn’t actually. Knight meant the guys from the 2009-10 team (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton), and that’s also who Hugh was talking about. If he talked about this year’s players, he would’ve discussed Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
    Carry on.

  14. Leave it to Bobby Knight to find a way to make Kentucky’s quasi-professional basketball factory sympathetic!

    Thank goodness that when Bobby makes bone-headed statements like this one, it only causes damage to his own rep and no longer to Indiana’s!

    The man was a basketball genius, but sadly lacking in many other areas, including human relations.

    Turning now to Hugh’s piece, the aspect of Hugh’s piece that leaves me cold is his defense of the snakepit that is major college athletics today.

    The real root of the problem is money. These young athletes are able to generate a ton of money for their schools, not to mention coaches, agents and assorted hangers-on.

    That much money is poisonous. It leads to things like the money handshakes that we read about in the news and other similarly disgusting behaviors.

    I know that money also flows at Indiana. I just hope that Fred Glass, Tom Crean and Kevin Wilson understand that they must run a clean program despite the fact that, in some ways, that puts them at at least a short term disadvantage in a competitive environment.

    And I hope that the athletes who consider Indiana understand that, ultimately, integrity defines us all as human beings and over time, leads to better results — AND clean consciences.

  15. A little research might show that Knight was technically correct about the kids not attending classes. I believe KY does allow kids to take online classes and if so, some or all of that group of kids may not have physically attended classes. Knight is no dummy and I would bet he carefully measured his words. Does anyone else have any knowledge of online course availability for student-athletes at KY? This does not excuse his often boorish behav… what am I doing? Knight is a great basketball mind but he is an unapologetic a$$ and hates KY!! That can’t make him all bad! 🙂

  16. Hehe…

    It would’ve been interesting to see Hugh cover IU basketball during Knight’s tenure at IU.

    I’d think we would see more answers like Knight using his crystal ball to foresee Damon Bailey’s role on next year’s team…

  17. …and when they’re done they have…a degree from Kentucky. I shared the story once before but, the short version is, I have an acquaintance, who is not an athlete, who graduated from Kentucky with a business degree who cannot read. So they went to classes. Good for them. Apply the same story to a real school.

  18. I am NOT endorsing anything that Bob Knight said. However, I find your comments, Hugh, to be insipid. You said: “For one thing, Patrick Patterson, a junior, graduated after the semester in question. Yes, in three years. Another, John Wall, made the honor roll.” Those are both accurate and very telling facts. Then you said: “A third, DeMarcus Cousins, Tweeted that he went to class and “finished out strong.” You and Knight tie for irresponsibility. You apparently cite this as some sort of proof that he both attended classes and did college level work. That is absurd, it is a totally self-serving, meaningless statement. Next you say: “Also, Knight knows enough to know that no school, even Kentucky, would take the APR hit (and the likely reduction in scholarships) from having five players flunk their last semester on campus.” So what? To have online courses, with no attendance, no monitoring of work, little attempt to ensure that the student did the work and that the work was college level, is NOT unheard of! No one flunks because the university, KY or Memphis in this example, does not want them to flunk. They find a way to give passing marks. But this does NOT mean that academic integrity has been maintained. You did not even address the baseball rule versus the basketball rule debate. You mention two specific cases, which mean nothing on a statistical basis. How can the rule work fine for baseball and not for basketball, and vice versus? You should actually try to grapple with the issue. The economics of the kid’s family are present in both cases, basketball and baseball. Then you completely blow all credibility by saying: “for someone to sit in an office in the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and make a decision that education is more valuable than supporting a family for an arbitrary period of time is ignorance on a dangerous level”, when the rule in question is NOT an NCAA rule at all, but an NBA rule and/or an MLB rule! Do a little research next time.

  19. Hugh,

    would type of irresponsible reporting are you doing? Are you telling me that b/c Cousins tweeted that he attended classes that is absolute fact?

    Get a grip.

  20. Hugh –

    Your argument regarding the right to earn a living does not make sense. How, exactly, are the players precluded from earning a living if they institute the college baseball rule in college basketball?

    The players could quit college and play overseas, they could work at McDonald’s, etc. The NBA could not or would not “hire” them. They still have the right to work. Brandon Jennings went overseas for a year and players could play overseas for two years or three and certainly earn a great living. They could send the money back to Mom in Baltimore.

    And by the way, I think it is an NBA rule so if it created a void the private market would fill it. Another league would form to sign and pay players who wanted to go straight from high school to the pros or leave after one or two years.

    I think the rule should be two years in college or go straight to the pros from high school. You could go overseas or join roller derby or work at Wal-Mart if you wanted to leave school, but the NBA could not draft you if you elected college for two years.

    The issue is that with one and done you have kids who only need to maintain eligibility for one semester and it can make college basketball a farce. It is sad really. We all know how easy it would be to make grades in the lowest level classes offered. At least with a two year rule kids would have to commit to college for at least 1.5 years.

    Your argument of “right to work” is just asinine and does not hold water. It is still a free country. I could not be elected President of the United States until I was 35 – is that wrong too?

  21. The entire crux of the commentary falls apart when one realizes that it is not an NCAA rule but an NBA rule. That changes the concept because the NBA is the employer and can choose whomever they wish to employ. The NCAA can only sit back and watch. They play no role in whether a player can go pro out of high school or after one year of college.
    Your commentary was not very well thought out.

  22. Another portion of the commentary doesn’t make sense, as well. The NBA requires players to have a year of college (or overseas play) to prepare them for the pros. My job requires a license. I cannot test for that license without the required education. I am not precluded from working, it is simply a requirement. Most jobs have requirements.
    So, you feel that the NBA, the employer, has no right to attach requirements to a ridiculously high paying job?

  23. The NBA absolutely has a right to say it will not draft players until they are 19. It is a private business and can establish such rules. But Knight gave no indication he was referring to the NBA establishing the rule, which indicates he wants the NCAA to establish it. The NCAA, which I suppose is technically private but represents a group that is largely public universities, has no business making such a rule. No university requires you to commit to three years if you are a general student, so why should it ask the same of basketball players?
    The baseball rule works because it’s been around forever and taken as just what it is. It is unlikely that any rules governing basketball players will ever be around long enough to reach such a point, because we all discuss it (and whine and moan) over and over again.
    Yes, you can go pro. Brandon Jennings did it. But there’s a reason why no one else has – how many 18-year-olds want to move to a foreign country and play basketball in a system that values seniority (of which they have none) and bears little resemblance to the NBA game. That’s like saying I could have dropped out of school and gone to work at a weekly newspaper, or I could graduate and work at a well-respected daily. Just because there is technically another option does not mean you can make any rule you wish.

  24. First off Knight should have chosen his words more carefully but then that has never been one of his better qualities. Correct message for the most part just wrong on a few details, technically.

    No school would risk taking that kind of APR hit….Ah this is pUKe that we are talking about Hugh, right ? They have taken far greater risks than something like that for much smaller things in the past and on more than one occasion. Sometimes they have been able to buy their way out of it when caught and there have been the, once in a whiles, where they could not buy their way out of something. Hell, I would even go so far as to say hiring the coach they did shines a glaring light on a willingness to risk something that would carry far greater penalties than a simple APR hit. pUKe has proven time and time again it carries the mantra of ” Do WHATEVER it takes, just win ” Maybe I should have just simply said show me something, hell anything, in their penalized past that says that they would fear something as trivial, to them, as taking a hit to their APR. Remember part of Eddie Sutton’s defense was “hell I just done what had always been done in the past. I just figured it was an acceptable way of doing things here”, and don’t even get me started on Rupp but then again I’m sure that, over the many years,no one at the top of the big blue ladder has ever had any idea any of the things they done were going on.

    Cousins tweeted that he attended class…really Hugh? Cousins tweeted it so it has to be true, right? I usually agree with most of what you say but putting something like that out there and not having anything along with it to back it up is more than a little weak, you are a much better journalist than that. It is like others have said just because pUKe can say that they had “the grades”, it’s how those “grades” were obtained, were they spoon fed the tests by a tutor, no nothing like that could ever happen at pUKe could it. I’m not saying that some or any of them took the courses online but if they were able to do something like that I would not be a bit surprised if some or most of them (read someone else typing in the answers) done it that way after all look at the success that Bledsoe had when he took online classes over the summers while he was in high school and playing AAU all summer all over the country. I’m sure he probably tutored the others on how the get the most out of your online class learning and I think we all know what I mean when I say that. This is where pUKe can technically say that there was not a money handshake given to the athlete, and they would be right, because the money handshake was given to the ones that took the tests for them on behalf of the athlete.

    I guess they could have FedExed (Emery Freight) the tests that “they” completed to the university but they were probably told not to do that for some reason…hhmmm why would a university that has done nothing but strictly follow all of the rules at all times tell them something like that. I just can’t figure that one out. 🙂

  25. “The NCAA, which I suppose is technically private but represents a group that is largely public universities, has no business making such a rule. No university requires you to commit to three years if you are a general student, so why should it ask the same of basketball players?”

    I think this analogy may be off. Plenty of schools/degree programs require you to finish (not just stay a couple years) to enter the profession of your choice. As has been mentioned elsewhere, these kids are free to pursue other jobs. My school, for instance, requires me to finish my degree before it will certify that I can sit for the bar exam (I could drop out and find a differnt job, as can college basketball players). And I didn’t even have the option to skip the degree and go straight to practice (if I felt ready) as the baseball rule would allow these guys.

  26. Knight’s error was semantics. Maybe saying all 5 starters didn’t go to class was the wrong way to say it. But you can’t tell me that Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Orton went to classes. They were all out of town by the time spring break came along.

    Hell, Bledsoe and Orton didn’t go to class in high school either.

  27. Who cares if kids leave college basketball to go pro? If someone offered me 50 grand to play basketball for a living I would do it in a heartbeat….you would have to be ignorant not to….

  28. 50 Grand!!! Where have you been Ben_M??? It’s not 1978 anymore! I also hope you are not an agent… 🙂
    In 2008 here is what the 30th player in the draft was guaranteed: 30 – $797,600. I think the current average NBA salary is >5 million.

  29. I’d play pro ball for a living for 20 grand a year….i’m not retarded I know the nba pays more than that….my point is that a lot of jobs out of college don’t even pay 50 grand a year so whats the big deal in taking a good job after your first year of college

  30. @Ben_M, was only making a joke. Never meant to have you think your intelligence was questioned.
    I’m old enough that if blessed with NBA talent, I could have made the jump in ’78. $50k was a heck of a lot of money then.

  31. After witnessing for decades the corrupt behavior encouraged in the pUKe BB program leads me to believe doctoring the grade books would be but an elementary exercise. Swallowing and digesting pUKe administration officials public claims of academic achievement of their BB players as gospel over the thoughts and comments of RMK is not proof positive to me. pUKe BB will always be viewed in the gray shadow they have created, earned and own.

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