The injury suffered by Nerlens Noel will ignite a debate about making guys play one season of college basketball.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Sometimes when I hear that an underclassman, especially a freshman, is leaving college basketball early for the NBA, I groan.
Some of the groaning is a generational thing. I remember when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Darrell Griffith and even Grant Hill and Tim Duncan played out their entire college careers. Didn't hurt them.
What's the rush? Even Michael Jordan played three seasons of college basketball. Stay in college. Improve your game. Mature. Learn some life skills. You're walking away from the best years of your life.
That's one thing I took away from the unfortunate torn ACL that Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel suffered to his left knee Tuesday night against Florida.
If you're good enough to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, there is never a wrong time to leave for the NBA. Never.
Coaches can recruit other players and build other championship teams. They do it all the time. It's in the first line of their job description.
Fans will learn to love the next recruiting class. They're conditioned to fall in love with the next group of players. That's what separates the college game from the pro game.
But for players, one season, and especially one injury, can dictate their lives – professionally and financially.
That's one of the first things that I thought about when I saw Noel lying on the floor, grabbing his knee. The television microphones picked up his disturbing screams, especially as everybody in the arena got quiet. It was a haunting sight.
It was a flashback to University of Louisville running back Michael Bush lying on the turf at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium or Derek Anderson going down during the 1997 season for Kentucky at Rupp Arena or the two awful knee injuries that Maurice Creek has endured with the Indiana University basketball program.
But what was different about this situation is that Noel is a guy who could have been playing in the National Basketball Association under the rules that existed a decade ago.
Was he ready to move directly from high school to the NBA?
No, he wasn't.
His offensive game needs work. It's not NBA-ready. More time in the weight room will increase his strength and endurance. Compare video of Noel on the court in November with video of Noel on the court against Mississippi several weeks ago and you'll quickly see the way that his skills have benefited from the time he has spent with John Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff.
But Noel has other developed skills that the NBA values – the ability to defend and protect the rim. He is the kind of shot-blocker who could lead the NBA in shot-blocking one day. He was blessed with a special skill, one that translates to big money.
It's a skill that would have convinced an NBA team to invest a first-round selection in Nerlens Noel last June. He would have signed a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth season that would have been worth a minimum of $10 million.
He simply didn't have that option, an option that convinced Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and several others to go directly from high school to the NBA.
The NBA and its Players Association need to fix their rule, the one that requires guys to play one season of college basketball. They need to adopt the rule that works in baseball.
If you want to play the college game, that's fine. It's your call – and you're making a three-year commitment. But if you think you're ready for the NBA and believe that somebody is going to offer you a contract, there is no reason to make a detour to college basketball for even one season.
Go. Go. Go.
Some guys will make the wrong choice. That's inevitable. Some still do when they leave school after one season. But somebody is also going to be forced into the college game and miss his big professional opportunity.
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Brandon Knight made it through their one season healthy. Cody Zeller made a choice to play a second season at Indiana.
Chances are Noel will heal, be a first-round pick and enjoy a pro career. He will undergo surgery in the next two to three months. Recovery will require six to eight months. Guys come back strong from ACL tears all the time. It's no longer the career killer it was a generation or two ago.
He's a talented kid who plays with unbridled joy. I'm sure I join basketball fans across Kentuckiana wishing him a quick and complete recovery.
And if Noel decides to turn pro after this ordeal, we should all understand – and applaud.