Monday Superlatives
December 23, 2019

James Wiseman just showed us how college basketball dies

South Carolina State v Memphis

Joe Murphy

Last month, I wrote about Memphis freshman James Wiseman's suspension by the NCAA, which ended up being the best proof yet that amateurism in revenue-generating sports is a sham. Wiseman was originally ruled ineligible because of an $11,500 gift that Penny Hardaway gave him for moving expenses long before Hardaway became the Memphis coach and recruited him. That decision was changed to a 12-game suspension, and the ruling stipulated that he had to pay the original $11,500 to a charity of his choice. This was seen as a "compromise" that would let him return to action in mid-January, but in an Instagram post Friday, Wiseman threw their compromise in the trash by withdrawing from Memphis to prepare for the NBA draft. In total, he played three games in his entire college career.

And why wouldn't he leave? The NCAA decision was unfair, but more importantly, the entire system is unfair. We've been down this road before, so I won't belabor the point, but there's literally no reason for someone like Wiseman to persist in making money for an institution like the NCAA when he doesn't seen a solitary red cent, especially when they disrespect him so blatantly. The one and only good reason would be to cement his draft status, but Wiseman is in a position where it doesn't really matter to him.

He's making the right choice. The bigger issue now is what this means for the NCAA. The one-and-done rule will likely (not definitely, but likely) be gone by 2022, and 18-year-olds will be able to enter the NBA draft directly, but in the meantime, Wiseman's departure could lead the way to deeper absurdities. Look at UNC's Cole Anthony, the freshman star who just had surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Is it really worth it for him to rush back to help a poor UNC team contend in March? Or will he go the way of Wiseman, and pack it in for the draft? Wiseman's example is eye-opening in its simplicity—you don't have to dance their dance; you can simply go.

But this goes deeper than individuals. In short segment on ESPN, Jay Williams and Mike Greenberg had a somewhat muddled argument about Wiseman (in which it was noted that there's a very good chance none of the top six picks in the 2020 draft will play in this year's NCAA tournament, the first time that's ever happened), but Williams brought up the idea of the NCAA's relevancy, and how they've done absolutely nothing to incentivize freshmen to find value in their college careers...by actually paying them, for instance.

Instead of thinking ahead, the NCAA relies on old power structures that have rapidly eroded, and have actually incentivized players to leave with moves like the Wiseman suspension.

If there was any doubt left that the one-and-done rule is a dead institution walking, the Wiseman debacle obliterated it. The NBA will change its draft rule so that top prospects can enter the league after high school. But that's not the end of the bad news for college basketball. As Williams suggested, the NBA seems to be on a path to unionizing and financing the G-League so that even non-lottery high school stars can get paid in a minor league system without wasting time in an unpaid internship with the NCAA. In that case, college basketball won't just be losing the Zions and Wisemans of the world; they'll be losing second-round draft talent too, and beyond.

This is reality, and nobody in the NCAA power structure seems to have asked themselves a simple question: How appealing is our product without blue chip talent? They will continue to hemorrhage influence and viewership and money, and the funny thing is, it didn't have to be this way. If they'd only adjusted earlier and paid the players, they could have found a way to retain the top talent that they're about to lose. When college basketball withers on the vine, they'll have only themselves to blame.

Previously Unknown German Sensation of the Week: Dennis Schröder

The scene: Sunday night, Oklahoma City. The Thunder are down to the Clippers 98-92 with six minutes left. They've been hanging around all game, but the visiting Clips are clearly the better team, and at this point the final result looks like a formality. Then, my friends, Dennis Schröder happened—in six minutes, he scored 16 points, putting the team on his back and leading them to a somehow-comfortable 118-112 win. It would have been an amazing closing stretch for anyone, but Schröder isn't even a starter, and by all rights shouldn't have been the primary scorer in that situation. Didn't matter. He was so hot that he deserved the ball, everybody around him knew it, and the Clippers couldn't stop it. Here are a couple of those buckets, and notice in particular the insane ankle-breaking Jordan-vs.-Russell-esque crossover for the mid-range jumper:

I can't tell if the hair is an homage to Dennis Rodman, or what, but Schröder is now on my radar, and the ending to that game was truly (looks up German word for "excellent")...ausgezeichnet.

(If that actually means something horrible in German, please direct all emotional distress lawsuits to Google Translate.)

The "I Barely Follow the NFL and I Can Still Tell This Guy Is Incredible" Human of the Week: Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Even if you're like me and have slowly weaned yourself off the NFL for years (my reasons weren't even political, so save your standing ovations/rotten tomatoes), some items tend to make its way through the hard border between your brain and the nation's most popular league. Last year, that item was Patrick Mahomes, and this year it's Lamar Jackson. On Sunday, I finally took it upon myself to watch him as the Ravens took on the Browns, destroyed them (obviously), and clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. In the process, Jackson set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (and still has one game left). I also learned at the end of an insane two-minute, 138-yard, 2-touchdown passing flurry that he's the kind of player that can spot and execute a throw like this:

Now, we all remembered what happened to Mahomes last year—he and his fun team lost to the cheating swine collective known as the New England Patriots. It is almost a given that Jackson will have to pass the same test, and so I implore the NFL gods: Please, let him win. You've already, in your senseless cruelty, given the Patriots more than enough. Don't let Belichick hatch some brilliant defensive scheme that hinges on his d-backs putting vaseline on the ball between downs. Let Lamar win. Let him humiliate them. Thank you.