by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Don’t call it college. It’s not college if you don’t even declare a major. It’s not college if you needn’t bother finishing your second semester. It’s not college if you spent most of your time in the gym, or on a plane, or being interviewed. It’s not college just because you wore a uniform with the school’s name on it.

We are hearing lately about all these freshman basketball stars – Kevin Love of UCLA, O.J. Mayo of Southern Cal, Derrick Rose of Memphis, Michael Beasley of Kansas State – leaving college to jump to the NBA. Leaving college? Please. They were never really there.

Let’s face it. The NBA uses college as a smokehouse to cure its beef, forcing young men to spend a year there or playing overseas before becoming eligible for the draft at age 19.

Meanwhile, college teams are only too happy to snare these trapped high school phenoms – even for one season – in hopes of riding them to a quick championship.

They use each other.

But it’s not about college.

“Since I was 5 years old this has been a dream of mine,” Love told the media.

“I proved myself,” Beasley told the media.

“Why pass it up,” Mayo told the media, “when you’ve been waiting all your life?”

They meant the NBA – not about poly-sci. He’s practically a saint, right?

What’s ironic is that April is when many high school seniors anxiously open their mail, hoping for an acceptance letter from a university – a letter will that may change their lives.

It is also when these freshman hoop stars say bye-bye.

And yet colleges are amazingly silent about their coaches spending countless hours and significant funds to sign up kids who have no intention of sticking around. And how come the NCAA jumps all over players for taking a dollar, but looks the other way at the mercenary concept of using a college as a tryout for the NBA?

Memphis coach John Calipari recruited Rose hard in high school, weaving through a family network in Rose’s tough Chicago neighborhood. When the kid signed, it was a big day for Memphis basketball.

Now, after one season, Rose is done. All that work. All that coddling, those letters, phone calls, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering. You would think Calipari would feel a fool – or at least used. But because Memphis went to the championship game, all you hear are hosannas.

“We are forever indebted to Derrick and his family for what they did not only for this basketball program,” Calipari told reporters, “but also for the university and the city of Memphis.”


You’d have thought he endowed a chair. Taking the step to riches

What did a kid like Rose “do” for his university? Get it on national TV? Convince other basketball phenoms to rent space there for a year? (In fact, another red-hot prep star, Tyreke Evans, has indeed committed to Memphis, now that Rose has vacated the penthouse.)

No wonder Mayo, by most reports, chose USC on his own. The word is he wanted a major media market so that he could enter the NBA as a brand. Hey. The kid’s no dummy. Never mind that USC only tied for third place in the Pac-10 this season and was ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a feat it might have accomplished without Mayo.

“Attending USC,” Mayo said in a statement announcing his departure, “… has really helped prepare me for my next step in life.”

Right. But not because of a single thing he learned in a classroom.

Which is the whole point. If you want to run a minor league, then say it’s a minor league. Don’t call it college. Don’t play charades with words like “student” and “alum.” Are the Loves and Beasleys of the world really alumni of a school? Do their pictures really belong in the hallways and in brochures?

They are the basketball version of in-transit passengers, the ones that go from one plane to another by walking through a special corridor. If you really attended college, you know its value. You learn to be a student, to live on your own, to make decisions about time, study, friends, to grow up.

You don’t get that pulling on a uniform for a few months. Dick Vitale used to call these kids Diaper Dandies. Not anymore. Diapers don’t have pockets. And stuffing pockets – on both sides – is all this charade is about.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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