Sports

Elfin: Master Manipulator Of The System

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NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky
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John Wall was at Verizon Center on Monday night, playing his usual major role in the Wizards’ 112-98 loss to visiting Milwaukee, a defeat that dropped Washington’s record to an abysmal 12-41.

But if the NBA was more like the NFL, which doesn’t allow players to be drafted until they’re three years out of high school, Wall would have been in New Orleans, helping lead Kentucky past Kansas for its first national championship since he was a 7-year-old still mastering the art of the dribble.

That’s because Wall, who won’t be 22 until September, should only be a junior at Kentucky instead of being another of Wildcats coach John Calipari’s one-and-done recruits. That list includes: 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls; 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans of Sacramento; Evans’ Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins; as well as Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons and will likely expand soon with National Player of the Year Anthony Davis and perhaps fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Basketball is obviously less of a physical sport than football so players’ bodies don’t benefit as much from an extra couple of years of maturity before they turn pro. Heck, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were NBA stars right out of high school before the mandatory year in college rule was instituted. But look how Kwame Brown and Andray Blatche have struggled without ever playing college hoops.

There’s also something to be said for being a college student, learning subjects and attending classes, and not feeling the need to justify a salary in the millions. As quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford (in 2011) and Matt Barkley of Southern Cal (this year) realized by not leaving school early despite being surefire early first-round draft choices, college can be the most carefree, fun time of your life even with the pressure of juggling academics, athletics and the on-campus social whirl.

Calipari, whose transgressions wound up forcing Massachusetts and Memphis to vacate their Final Four berths, says that he doesn’t like the current system, that he just plays the cards he’s dealt to the best of his ability.

“Either I can recruit players who are not as good … or I can try to convince guys that should leave to stay,” said Calipari, who believes that stipends and insurance policies would help convince some players to stay put. “I don’t apologize for anything we do. The NBA has to get involved. (NBA Players Association executive director) Billy Hunter owns the one-year rule. You want it to go to two years, only he can say yes.”

But as Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after his Cardinals lost to the Wildcats in Saturday’s NCAA semifinals, “I marvel at what John does. I couldn’t do it. I can’t say hello and goodbye in seven months.”

Wall is averaging a fine 16.5 points and 8.1 assists – very similar to his stats during his lone year in Lexington — during his two seasons in Washington. He has been paid nearly $11 million. But the Wizards are 35-100 heading into tonight’s game at Indiana. That’s more losses than Kentucky has suffered during the past 12 years.

It’s college basketball’s loss that Wall isn’t still in school, but that’s also a defeat for him and for the Wizards who would be looking at adding a more mature point guard in this year’s draft instead of the 19-year-old who was handed the faltering team’s reins in June 2010.

David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.

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