HCS Op-Ed: Myles Turner Leaves the Longhorns for the NBA Draft, But at What Cost?

Saturday night, hours after reports began circling that Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes had been fired, Myles Turner played a game of low hoop basketball at a Texas fraternity party. A smile lit up his face like a seventh grader who just got his first pair of Jordans. If it weren’t for his 6-foot-11 frame and effortless jump shot, you might think he was just a regular UT freshman, like the ones playing alongside him.

Technically he was a UT student, at least for about eight more hours. The next morning he announced in a video, “I’ve decided to forgo my education and submit my name to the 2015 NBA draft.” His one-year obligation was complete.

Less than one year earlier, Turner picked a burnt-orange bucket hat, forever attaching himself to the Longhorn Nation. But before he even reached campus, it was widely assumed the No. 2 recruit would be a one-and-done. Based on the potential he’s shown, his height, and leading the Big 12 in blocks this year, he is projected as high as a top-ten pick.

With expectations like that, and Big 12 Freshman of the Year to his name, it’s a smart move. Since the NBA set its age limit to 19 in 2006, this is now accepted as the norm for star players. But with it, the beauty of college basketball has become fleeting. A college career has shrunk to one season, and the sport’s pinnacle is one month. On to the next, Texas fans.

Many arguments have been made against forcing players to spend one year in college if they’re not interested. But on a very real level, it leads to a shallow fan experience. For most college sports, pride for a player grows linearly as you watch them develop. For basketball, it’s an exponential spike that’s short-lived. The pride may continue if they leave to be successful, but it’s mostly unattached. The satisfaction of watching them play in the same colors you proudly wear is dwindled down to a highlight video.

Feeding off the success of trailblazers who left early is nothing new for Texas. Kevin Durant hadn’t even applied for a driver’s license by the time he left Texas, but you better believe Longhorn fans took credit for his NBA MVP. Walter Cronkite, who dropped out, is the voice that inspires students to “get your horns up” at every major UT event. Michael Dell, who decided college wasn’t for him freshman year, will have a UT medical school named after him. The school motto is “what starts here, changes the world,” not what graduates from here.

It’s easy to understand why Turner would pick the possibility of a multimillion-dollar contract and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. When you add in adapting to an entirely new coaching staff next year, it makes even more sense. Most fans get it, and accept it, but it always begs the question of what could’ve been.

What if players stayed and developed with a consistent team and coaching staff? Even simpler, what if they just enjoyed being a college kid?

Freshman year is a mind-boggling mix of stress and fun, but mostly, confusion. Now add in being an athlete. The thing about college though, is after freshman year, things start to settle down. Faces you pass on campus start to become more familiar. Traditions like seeing an orange-lit tower start to hit you a little harder. And at sporting events, your pride swells for athletes you’ve watched grow alongside you.

Turner, along with many other one-and-done players, won’t get to experience that. There is pressure all around to join the league early, while their draft stock is high. Most 19-year-olds are deciding whether they should skip their Friday class and eat Ramen.

Turner has repeatedly mentioned the toughness of his decision, but on the court Saturday night, he looked at peace. It wasn’t about money, pressure, or analysis of his turnaround jumper. For a brief moment, before the world knew, Myles Turner was just a college kid that loves basketball.

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