Enjoy Embiid-Smart now, because JoJo’s as good as one-and-done, thanks to a crappy NBA rule

The thought of Joel Embiid in a Jayhawks jersey for three years is a fantasy. Sadly.

Denny Medley/Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three seasons of Joel Embiid.

Bup, bup, bup! Just let that notion sink in for a few seconds. Then imagine the horror — or torture, if you like — of every opposing Big 12 assistant coach assigned to do the Kansas scout. Imagine them having to open with the same sentence for three straight years, having to writing BEWARE OF NO. 21 in big, giant letters, over and over, like a "KEEP OUT" sign with goggles.

Imagine the dozens upon dozens of balls being swatted all the way to Eudora.

Imagine the drop steps, the baseline jumpers, silk getting silkier.

Imagine the put-back dunks with enough thunder to make fans of the Seattle Seahawks look like one long communion line.

Three seasons of Joel Embiid.

It’s a fantasy and a fallacy of course, neither of which is Embiid’s fault. Seven-footers with Fred Astaire feet are a rare and prized commodity in the NBA; like gold and diamonds, they’re relatively immune to fluctuations of the open market, a commodity that is, and always will be, precious.

And with each passing week, with each opposing coach who walks away shaking his head and singing his praises — Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a man who knows NBA talent when he sees it, is the latest convert to The Church of JoJo — the closer this gets to feeling like a collegiate farewell tour for the nice young man from Cameroon. And, hey, more power to him.

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But that doesn’t make the NBA’s "one-and-done" mandate any less a steaming pile of hamster crap.

Two-and-done — a minimum age limit of 20 — is better, but still smells like a sketchy compromise. And no limit at all probably isn’t realistic after so many post-Kevin-Garnett kids crashed and burned as pros.

Honestly, though? We’re thinking about this thing way, way, way too hard.

The NBA should just take a hard cue from professional baseball’s model — better yet, lift it outright — and be done with it. If you’re the second coming of Oscar Robertson and you want to enter the draft after high school — heck, after junior high, it’s a free market — so be it. But if you go the college route, you can’t re-enter the draft pool until three years after your high school graduation.

There. Done.

For our next trick, we’re fixing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." After that, climate change.

What’s that, you say?

It’s not just the rule that’s bad; it’s the connotation. One-and-done. If you never wanted to be here in the first place, why in the name of Spencer Haywood are you here?

Ah, yes. Andrew Wiggins.

Well, yeah, it’s true: In this little NBA-goes-the-Selig-route scenario, the only way the all-world Canadian ever would have donned KU colors was if someone sent him a Perry Ellis replica jersey as a gift. And the same might very well be true of Wiggins’ backcourt mate, Wayne Selden, who’s spent the last 10 days knocking out a damn good impersonation of a young Ray Allen.

But, three seasons of Joel Embiid.

And, maybe — maaaaaybe — three seasons of Marcus Smart. Three seasons of KU-Oklahoma State tilts such as the one we’ll probably get Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, that feel like Chiefs-vs.-Chargers, only with Smart playing the role of Kansas City favorite Philip Rivers, cast as the dude you love to hate.

Not a bad trade-off, don’t you think?

It’s not just the rule that’s bad; it’s the connotation. One-and-done. If you never wanted to be here in the first place, why in the name of Spencer Haywood are you here?

Because you have to be, that’s why. The alternative is being out of sight, in the NBA D-League, or out of mind, while playing overseas.

Now none of this is meant as a knock or slight on Wiggins, a nice young man from a nice family with the kind of ceiling only Greek gods can touch. He didn’t make the laws. He’s just forced to play within them.

That goes double for Jayhawks coach Bill Self. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski a few years back said one-and-done effectively turned a college into "an extended-stay hotel," which, of course, was spot-on.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from welcoming Jabari Parker with open arms. Or Austin Rivers. Or Kyrie Irving.

Rules of the arms race, man. Cowboy up or get left behind.

"If you don’t want to recruit one-and-done guys, just don’t recruit any of the top 10 recruits — it’s pretty easy," says Jonathan Givony, the man behind the website DraftExpress.com. "Go recruit 2-star guys, low-major players. Then you won’t have any issues at all. (They’ll) stay four years. You’re not going to win any games, though."

The tail wags the dog. Athletic directors want to keep the coffers full, and that means butts in seats, which means victories at whatever cost — or, rather, minimizing the ethical and academic hypocrisies inherent to the entire process. Coaches, at this level, want to 1. Win; 2. Win; 3. Win; 4. Graduate kids; 5. Mold good citizens; and 6. Win, in that order. Last spring, it was reported that of the $800,000 worth of potential bonuses in Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall’s contract, only $20,000 was tied to his team’s academics. We’re not picking on the Shockers, either; some schools disregard academic incentives altogether.

Names and faces change, but the circus plays on. The coaches are the ringmasters and the student-athletes our entertainment. Self gets the mightiest lions to jump through the highest hoops and, more often than not, he keeps them from eating people. Mission accomplished, and on with the show.

"Just looking at it from a player’s situation, (if) you have that one year, at least you’re able to see them in that (structured) setting," Hoiberg, a former vice president of basketball operations with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "At least you’re coached by somebody that’s going to show you the ropes on what to expect.

"They’re yelled at for maybe the first time in their life when they make mistakes, and you see how they react to it. You may see a kid, well, he’s a top five talent, and then you get him in a structured setting, well, he can’t handle it, so now, maybe, that pushes him to the second round. And that (one) year’s invaluable for a kid like that."


Still, given the current framework, the NBA remains the biggest winner, if there is such a beast. Prospects whose only ambition is the pro stage get to showcase themselves at the highest levels of college basketball, enhancing their exposure/brand before entering the NBA ranks — and, in turn, give the NBA something known, and widely seen, to sell on draft day. The D-League is a noble, necessary idea, but from an exposure/media standpoint, it gets absolutely buried by the college game. Until the courts rule otherwise, the NCAA is still the V.I.P. section of the minor league club, where the cool kids hang out, a status embraced and buoyed by generations.

One-and-done hasn’t helped NBA general managers much as far as swinging and missing, either, at least according to a 2011 essay by Tom Ziller of SB Nation. Just before the 19-year-old minimum age limit went into effect, over a span from 2002-05, the ratio of top 10 draft picks the piece judged as "successes" to "busts" was 21 to 10. From 2006-09, with one-and-done in place, the ratio of studs to flops was 22 to 11.

As teens, LeBron and Kobe were ready. Andrew Bynum wasn’t. Is there a "right" age? Is it 20? Is it 21? Or do you need to have — as baseball has — the flexibility to choose one of two paths?

"That’s a good question — I don’t know if age matters as much as years," Hoiberg says. "I kind of go back and forth. Yeah, maybe, if you’re good enough, you should be able to go straight there. But some of them are going to get bad advice and they’re going to go into the league and they’ll never reach that potential of what they could be."

Imagine three years of Joel Embiid in a Jayhawk uniform, three years of potential molded from clay into concrete. Embiid, whose temper might be the only thing standing between him becoming one of the greatest big men ever to play at Big Man U.

Well, that and giant bags of cash. More’s the pity.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.