Why players like Jalen Green heading to the G League won’t hurt college basketball as much as you think

For 11 straight years, from 1995 to 2005, some of the best amateur prospects in America — among them future stars like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James — entered the NBA Draft directly out of high school and, by extension, skipped college completely.

And guess what?

Rupp Arena filled up anyways. So did Allen Fieldhouse. So did Cameron Indoor. College basketball games remained on national television and people continued to watch them. There was still an NCAA Tournament every year, and each of them delivered storylines. So, sure, the creation of a new G League program that Class of 2020 prospects Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd have decided to join isn’t ideal for college basketball; that, I can acknowledge. But, history shows, the sport will largely look and feel the same in their absence.

More on that momentarily, but first understand this: The NBA didn’t create this developmental program tied to the G League and start throwing real money at elite prospects — reportedly, in Green’s case, an estimated $500,000 — to keep them from playing college basketball. The NBA did this to keep them from going to Australia like LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton did last year. Put simply, the NBA wants the best American prospects to remain in America, if only so that executives don’t have to go to Australia to evaluate them. So the league decided to invest in a program that can and will compete with Australia’s NBL.

It’ll likely work.

In fact, it’s already working.

And, yes, the byproduct of that will be two or four or maybe even 10 elite prospects per year skipping college basketball completely. And, yes, that’ll be too bad because I personally enjoyed watching Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis play at Texas, Memphis and Kentucky. But anybody suggesting this is the beginning of dreadful times for college basketball, or even something that’ll impact the sport at large in tangible ways, didn’t pay attention to that 11-year stretch from 1995 to 2005 when the best high school prospects routinely skipped college basketball and college basketball moved along same as always.

If you love Indiana, you love Indiana whether Romeo Langford is there or not. If you root for UCLA, you root for UCLA whether Lonzo Ball is there for not. If you have Michigan State season tickets, you have Michigan State season tickets whether Jaren Jackson Jr. is there or not. So whereas Green’s decision to skip college undeniably hurts Memphis, just like Todd’s decision to skip college undeniably hurts Michigan, their decisions to skip college won’t hurt college basketball in general much, if at all.

Which is not to suggest college basketball is without issues.

No sport deals with roster turnover as much as college basketball. Consequently, casual fans are largely unfamiliar with the players on an annual basis, and that’s among the reasons why the NCAA would be wise to loosen its amateurism rules — not necessarily to lure Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd to college, but to keep lesser prospects like Immanuel Quickley and Ayo Dosunmu in college longer. Beyond that, college basketball headlines are often tied to scandal. And at least half of the season is overshadowed by football.

These are all problems.

But one-and-done prospects becoming none-and-done prospects? That’s just not the biggest deal in the world — or, at least, it wasn’t back when that’s the world that existed from 1995 to 2005. Think about it this way: If this G League program would’ve been in place last year, how different would college basketball have looked this past season? A little, sure. But the top seven teams in the final AP Top 25 poll were Kansas, Gonzaga, Dayton, Florida State, Baylor, San Diego State and Creighton, and not a single one of them had a freshman on the roster who would’ve been offered a deal like the deal Jalen Green just accepted.

Obi Toppin would’ve still been in school.

So would Luka Garza. Payton Pritchard too.

In other words, the top of the sport would’ve largely been unaffected. And though I can’t promise that’ll be the case every season, I suspect it’ll be the case most seasons. Bottom line, the schools that have been good will continue to be good. The arenas that have been packed will continue to be packed. The people who have been watching on television will continue to watch on television. A handful of high school players going straight to the G League annually just isn’t going to change any of those things in any noticeable way.

So good luck, Jalen Green. Same to you, Isaiah Todd.

Memphis and Michigan will definitely miss you.

But college basketball will be OK.

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