By Michelle Kenney
The Duke Blue Devils were crowned the 2015 NCAA national champions after coming back in this year’s title game to beat the much older, and more experienced, Wisconsin Badgers. They accomplished this with eight scholarship players, four of whom were freshmen. Prior to the tournament, many thought Duke’s lack of experience would result in heartbreak, similar to last year’s first round loss to Mercer University. As it turned out, this was not the case at all. Duke’s last title run was in 2010, and their roster that year looked a lot different from this season’s. Five years ago, the starting lineup consisted of three seniors and two juniors. It is also worth noting is that every player on the 2010 roster ended up staying for four years; Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith both came back for their senior year, before going on to the NBA. In the past, Duke’s program has been a model for producing four-year college athletes that go pro, such as Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, and J.J. Redick. Even when the NBA imposed the one-and-done rule in 2006 – that players are not eligible for draft selection until one year after graduating high school – Coach K’s program didn’t seem to be affected at all. Surprisingly enough, this goes against the recent trend of players forgoing their eligibility and declaring early for the draft, as visualized in the graph below. The graph above shows nine years before and after the eligibility rule change. Since 2006, the average number of players that leave college after one year is 9, while it was only 2.67 players on average in the nine years before 2006. From 1998 to 2005, the average number of players that had gone directly out of high school was 4.25 players. How beneficial would that one year of college be to these players? The only difference for players now is that they are forced to wait a year before pursuing their dreams in the NBA. Kyrie Irving’s Duke career lasted just 11 games, due to a toe injury, yet he was still the number one pick in the 2011 draft. It seems that the college programs are more affected by the one-and-done rule than the players themselves. In 2010, Coach K began recruiting players that fit the one-and-done profile, such as Irving, Austin Rivers, Jabari Parker and transfer student Rodney Hood. This new form of recruiting may not be in the program’s best interests. The graph below shows how many one-and-done players Duke has on the roster, how many seniors are on the roster, and how far they made it in the tournament that season. In the three seasons since 2010 where there has been a one-and-done, Duke has won a total of two tournament games. Since 2010, the furthest Duke had gone in the tournament was a 2013 Elite Eight appearance, when they had a starting lineup centered around three seniors and no star freshmen. In 2014, the team relied heavily on Parker and Hood and when it came to March, Mercer’s seniority and experience pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament. This year proved the exception with four freshmen coming in and winning a national championship. It was one of the first times Duke has had to rely so heavily on freshmen, having three in the starting lineup for the entire season. 60 of Duke’s 68 points in the championship game were scored by the freshmen. The team put their trust in the hands of freshman point guard Tyus Jones, who made several game changing plays at the end of the game, including two big threes, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Duke was able to accomplish what former teams were unable to because of the other players’ contributions and willingness to accept their roles. Sophomore Matt Jones and Junior Amile Jefferson’s defense on Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, who was named the National Player of the Year, and Sam Dekker was crucial in Duke’s win. Sam Dekker, who averaged 52.5% shooting from the field during the season, was held to just 40% and missed all 6 of his three-point attempts. While having talented one-and-done players can lead to a national championship, it takes a rare level of chemistry to accomplish it, and, more often than not, teams that are built around one or two talented freshmen fall short come March. All three of Duke’s starting freshmen – Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones – are forgoing their college eligibility and declaring for the draft. Okafor is projected to be a top 3 pick. “As early as I can remember, I’ve fantasized and dreamed of the day that I could play professional basketball,” said Okafor. “I recall, at the age of six, promising my mom and dad that when I made it to the NBA I would buy them both different colored trucks.” The lack of monetary compensation for student-athletes is another factor that plays into their decision to leave early. The NCAA makes around $6 billion annually, but the players don’t receive a penny. With the constant risk of career-ending injuries, staying in college can cost them millions of dollars. The argument is made that getting a free education is enough compensation, which raises the question of how much the player values education over going pro. Despite being the hero in the championship game, the team’s second leading scorer with 16 points and pulling Duke out of a 9 point deficit by scoring 8 points in 70 seconds during the second half, the decision to come back for another year was easy for freshman Grayson Allen, who was #21 in his recruiting class. For Allen, a member of the All-ACC Academic team and who had 4.2 GPA in high school, his decision to become a Blue Devil went beyond basketball; he looks to be another four-year player intent on getting his college degree. However, having one year of college education does not outweigh the chances of injury or professional salary. Therefore, it might be more beneficial, for both the players and college programs, for the NBA to take a page out of the MLB’s rulebook and allow athletes to either get drafted right out of high school or stay in college for 2 or 3 years.