The ugly reality of college basketball has once again knocked on the door of the Washington Husky men's program, and two players have answered its call.
In a development that shocks nobody and disappoints many, freshmen Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss have decided to pursue their dreams of getting paid to play the game of basketball at the professional level.
I meant to say that they have decided to pursue their dreams of getting paid to watch other people with more developed bodies and better all-around skills play the game of basketball as they simply struggle to find a role on a team in a league known for acquiring and then crushing the dreams of talented young men before their time.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for you may not like the tone of this editorial.
Chriss and Murray are fine kids. Great kids, in fact. They are good basketball players. They both have NBA talent. They deserve the opportunity to play professional basketball. Indeed, the fact that they are opting to enter the NBA draft at the ripe old ages of 18 and 19, respectively, is not a bad decision for either kid given how the NBA prioritizes and values young amateurs over experienced amateurs.
Chriss, in particular, is a hot commodity. Draft Express projects him as a sure-fire mid-first-round pick. If he happens to go 15th, as DE predicts, he'll join other recent No. 15 luminaries such as Maurice Harkless, Adreian Payne, Kelly Oubre, and the inimitable Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Murray is another case altogether. The same analyst projects Murray to go somewhere around 34th in the draft. I'd list out some names of other notable NBA players that went with the No. 34 pick, but I couldn't find any such players who were actually playing in the league (not exactly true as PG Isaiah Canaan - who played a full four years at Murray State - has managed to stick with the Philadelphia 76ers).
While the odds of either player actually doing anything at the NBA level that will lead them to that lucrative second contract are thin, the decision to leave is defensible. A first-round draft pick is guaranteed money. A high second-round pick has a great shot at guaranteed money. Chriss and Murray have legitimate shots at turning their skills into a paycheck. These are players who play in a league that values "upside" over "accomplishment." The decision to leave is a no-brainer the likes of which we haven't seen since Joanie married Chachi.
But the "right" decision isn't always a "good" decision.
The truth of the matter is neither Murray or Chriss are remotely close to being ready to compete at the NBA level. Murray's game is raw. His body is too lithe to stand up to the rigors of an NBA season, and the lack of an NBA jump shot severely diminishes his value in a league where guards need to be able to shoot. His body of work is as thin as his body's frame. The only categories he led the PAC-12 in this past season were shot attempts and turnovers, hardly the résumé of a future star.
Chriss, on the other hand, does have NBA-ready physical skills. But he has no real offensive skill around the rim, is completely undisciplined as a defender (as evidenced by his league-leading 138 fouls, 30 more than the next non-Washington player), and is known to have the maturity level of a Goonie. Some team is sure to take a chance on his elite athleticism. But is it even remotely conceivable to see Chriss on the floor of an NBA matching up against the Kevin Durants, Kawaii Leonards or James Hardens of the league? The notion is somewhat laughable.
The odds are stacked against our young pups. That is, unless we are talking about the odds of one or both players ending up in the D-League. Those odds look much better.
It's interesting to note, in fact, that the UW players who have managed to have the most distinguished professional careers in recent times are all players who put in longer tenures with head coach Lorenzo Romar. Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, and Quincy Pondexter are all examples of guys who have made solid-to-great contributions in the league. Those who went the one- or two-and-done routes have had markedly less success. I'm talking about guys like Terrence Ross (benchwarmer), Spencer Hawes (seven stops in 11 seasons), and Tony Wroten (out of the league until getting signed by the New York Knicks last week).
For whatever reason, UW early draft entries have had little success in the NBA. This isn't necessarily a phenomenon unique to UW, nor is it a fact that those who have stayed for longer college tenures have all collectively had more success (looking at you, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Jon Brockman, and Justin Dentmon). Since the NBA implemented the 19-year-old age limit and effectively created this "one and done" phenomenon at the college ranks, they have consistently demonstrated a preference to draft younger athletes with "upside" over players who have played out their eligibility at the college level. This is simply the reality of the game. And the game is harsh on young talents who are not fully ready to be professionals.
What's even sadder to me is that both Murray and Chriss will leave UW having accomplished nothing of note for themselves or for their team. They will, of course, tweet out platitudes about their experience with UW. They will commence with the shoutouts, accolades and appreciations that are common, if not cliche, for their age group. They will technically go down as Huskies who once played basketball in the program, but ...
... there is no legacy here. There are no achievements of note. Neither player contributed anything to the program that will inspire the typical Husky fan to reach for the names "Murray" or "Chriss" when we play the game of "Remember When?" with our buddies. In a matter of a season or two, most Husky fans won't even recall their names, much less their contributions to what was an altogether mediocre young team.
This lost legacy is a brutal reality of its own kind. It's a circumstance born from the unforgiving structures built around the opposing forces of amateur basketball and the National Basketball Association. Both Murray and Chriss could have chosen to stay at UW. They could have built a legacy by joining with incoming talents like Markele Fultz and Sam Timmins to lead the Huskies back to NCAA Tournament. They could have lived the madness and really traveled a journey with their brothers.
But what would have been the point of doing that if all that is waiting for them was a diminished draft rating?
I don't blame them. We are all contending with a system that wants so badly to pluck these young talents out of the comforts of their nurturing college programs into a barbarous domain where their development, in all likelihood, will become stunted and their joy for the game will be squashed under the weight of having to make a living. It's a vicious paradox.
It's also a shame.
I expect that many, including any players reading this, will find my stark assessment both overly critical and unduly censorious. Maybe — but you may as well get used to it. Welcome to the big leagues.