LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Carolyn Kyles, the mother of Julius Randle, knows basketball. She played the game in college. And she knows her son as well as she knows herself, raised him as a single parent, taught him the game in the driveway, pushed him and even bullied him on the court the way only a 6-foot-2 mother can.
She did those things because there was no one else around to do them.
Her son's single season at the University of Kentucky, which ended Tuesday when he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft, was memorable.
It also was nerve-wracking.
Let's be honest.
All of the work. All of the afternoons and evenings. All of the high school games. The weeks and months of watching the boy grow. The dreams. The posters on his walls. Not to mention, yes, the future. It's not all about the money, but the money is there. That's why they call it professional basketball. It's a profession. This mother who missed her son's NCAA Elite Eight win over Michigan to get back to Texas to work isn't sweating about her son's future earnings for her own sake. But for his? You'd better believe it's important. For them? These stakes are high.
For this family, and others like it who have so much riding on the hoops -- and health -- fortunes of these players, the so-called "one-and-done" season is anything but a quick stop at the college level.
It's a risk.
"It is," she said. "When I'm watching him play and all of a sudden I see him limping and I'm thinking, 'Is he okay? Is he okay?' And there was one game on the road where he limped off the court and Coach (Rod) Strickland texted me right away, 'He is okay.' And I thought, that's great. They need to set up this system all the time."
Randle's announcement Tuesday was a reason to celebrate. I know the people who don't think anyone should leave college early don't agree with that. But it's not about them. And it's not about the coaches or the fans. These particular moments are about the parents and sons.
And if you're one of those parents of one of those sons, of course you want to see them do well, you want to see them play for championships and you want them to be well-liked and respected. But when they get up to make the announcement that Randle made Tuesday, the main thing you want them to be is healthy.
Too many times, we've seen them not be healthy. When Nerlens Noel went down last season, the question again came, why do these players have to spend a year in college if the NBA will pay for them now? Willie Cauley-Stein is a great player and person and Kentucky is fortunate to have him back. But injury cost him this year.
The worst injustice in the one-and-done setup is not done to the college game. The game is bigger than any handful of players in any given season, as are the programs who play host to these migrants for a short time.
The worst injustice is done to the players themselves, who have to risk substantial financial reward, as well as delay a long sought-after dream, to serve an apprenticeship at the college level.
It's not this way in other fields. We've had this discussion before. You don't have to do a year of drama at Yale to star in a movie. You don't have to have a certain number of credit hours in music to join an orchestra.
John Calipari himself brought up Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth, who spent a season and a half at Texas before turning pro.
"You'd make him stay in school?" Calipari asked reporters a little while back.
No. Nobody's making him stay in school. He turned pro midway through his sophomore year. But get this -- nobody made him go to college, either. He was free to turn pro at age 19. (Actually, you can join the PGA Tour if you're 18 years old before the first day of the first tournament on the tour.) You want to play in the U.S. Open? Go for it. If you can qualify, there are no age restrictions. Lydia Ko, a 16-year-old who won the Canadian Open twice, was granted a waiver to join the LPGA Tour. When you're ready, you're ready. Most sports pretty well get that.
Spieth realized there was some value in going to college, and that's good. He went, did his thing, Texas won a national championship, and then he left.
Just what Julius Randle did (almost).
You do what you have to do. We all do. Age limits are legal. And you hope, in the end, the season you spend in college more resembles Randle's than Noel's. But you can't be sure.
The NBA, not college basketball, requires players to be 19 years of age and one year removed from their high school graduation to be eligible for the draft. New commissioner Adam Silver would like to raise the age limit to 20.
For the college game, it would be a great thing. But for these players, who are reaching the height of their value, some of them, to put all of that on the line to make money for college basketball and universities and coaches and sports networks and everyone but themselves, in the end, isn't right.
Without giving players a chance at some legitimate kind of professional basketball option, essentially forcing them into two-year internships is a bit much.
Julius Randle, from the standpoint of the NBA, is ready. He was ready a year ago. There are high school players coming into college right now who are ready now.
There has to be a system that serves those who are truly ready for the league while giving those who don't fare as well in the draft as they'd hoped a vehicle to turn back to college basketball.
It's a difficult question. In baseball, a player can choose college after seeing where he goes in the draft, but he can't go pro for another three years. In basketball, that's unworkable. One player in the NBA Draft represents a significant investment for franchises. They can't afford to wait three years, or any years, once they take a player.
On Tuesday, Randle said he did give returning to Kentucky some thought.
"Yeah. I did," he said. "It was just -- you know this season, this year, the more I think about it, it just went by fast. I’m definitely going to miss it. Kentucky will always have a special place in my heart. Growing up as a kid, it’s always been my dream to play in the NBA, and there’s no better opportunity for me to achieve that goal than now.”
No better opportunity and no better time.
And thankfully, Randle was able to make his decision on his terms, and in good health.
In the one-and-done world, everybody talks about what they mean for college basketball. It should never be forgotten, the ones who are taking on all the risks are not the coaches or the universities or the NBA. It's these players.
Every time one can stand up and do what Julius Randle did Tuesday, it's a good day.