Every offseason, dozens of polished head coaches begin their recruitment of uber-talented high school players in hopes that these teenagers will lead them to glory and triumph and win the National Championship. There’s been much to salivate over, with the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons and Jabari Parker in recent classes. However, are these talented rentals really enough to win it all? Or do more experienced, veteran-laden teams taste the ultimate victory? In my findings, quite can be said about the team success of these “one-and-done’s”
Much has been made about the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Proponents of it say that it allows these marquee players a chance at good education, good coaching, and the necessary nurturing to become an NBA star. Not to mention it’s great for the sport, as the NCAA will definitely benefit from showcasing the best amateur ballers in the land. However, some argue that it hinders the opportunity for these players, especially ones in financial turmoil. Why waste one year of college, racking up credits that you know you will never finish, as opposed to playing overseas for a year and making a paycheck and then entering the NBA Draft? Some big-wigs also make the claim that one-and-done’s are destroying college basketball by increasing roster turnover and therefore, continuity, all the while decimating the purported academic roots of college sports. No matter what you make of the hotly-debated subject, the supposed winners of the rule — college basketball coaches and their programs — may not be winning at all.
In doing my due diligence, I took the top six one-and-done’s from the last seven recruiting classes, per 247Sports, based on overall ranking of when they were recruited. For example, the top six players in the 2010 recruiting class were; Harrison Barnes, Kyrie Irving, Josh Selby, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Knight, and Tobias Harris- however, Barnes and Sullinger chose to stay another year at their respective universities, thus eliminating them from this investigation. Instead, I took the next two highest rated players who only played a year of college ball- Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, both from Texas. Why only six? Surely I should use more players to get more comprehensive results. Well, contrary to popular belief, there aren’t that many one-and-done’s on a yearly basis. The average is about six, and although in recent years that number goes up, using just the top six makes for more even results.
From there, I cross-referenced the schools that landed these highly touted recruits with the teams that ended up making the Final Four that year. My finding’s were inconsistent, to say the least. Take the 2015 season, which featured both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor leading their teams to the Final Four. Unlike in 2013, where none of the top six had a team in the Final Four. In fact, that seemed to be the consensus. In four of the last seven years, ZERO teams with a top six one-and-done player reached the Final Four. In 2011, there was only one: Brandon Knight of Kentucky. Many teams have tried and failed. Bill Self’s 2014 Kansas squad featured Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, superstars in college and the pros. That team, however, failed to reach the Sweet 16. Even the most dominant coach at this level, Coach K, failed to reach the Final Four when he recruited two impressive players- Harry Giles and Frank Jackson. Instead, he saw his most hated rival, UNC, win the Championship that year with a starting lineup of all upperclassmen.
So what does that say about the one-and-done rule? Well, for starters, it means that the best college teams in any given year usually have returning players. It also might be a reason why the rule could be on its way out. Given that many NBA front-office personnel are against the rule, citing one-and-done players lack of readiness for the pros, we could see the rule changed in the near future. And if the teams that have elite veteran players are the ones winning in March, who would really be opposed?
Of course, there has been one exception: the Kentucky Wildcats. Head coach John Calipari has been outspoken on the one-and-done rule and its adversaries. “It’s not broken… They need that (gap) year,” he recently told Fox Sports. And why wouldn’t he be in favor of it? No one has benefited more than Calipari and the Wildcats from this rule. He has recruited at least one, and oftentimes more, top six one-and-done’s every year since 2010. And what has he gotten from it? Just 4 Final Fours and a championship in that time frame. Calipari’s greatest asset as a coach is managing to take an otherworldly collection of 19 year old talent and get them to play together and win big, something no other coach has done recently, not even Krzyzewski. Kentucky basketball is the huge outlier in this study, and given the success Calipari has had with the one-and-done rule, expect him to put up a hell of a fight if the rule ever were to be changed.