IOWA CITY — Here comes Romeo Langford, for his one and only appearance in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
In a fairer world, he could have tried to make an NBA team had he desired, and chosen to skip visiting Iowa and nine other Big Ten locations altogether.
The 6-foot-6 guard will try to help Indiana end a four-game losing streak that began with a home defeat to Iowa on Feb. 7. His team has been a bust (4-11 in the Big Ten), but the No. 5 high school player in the nation last year according to ESPN has lived up to his billing since he signed with the Hoosiers out of New Albany, Ind.
Langford averages 17.1 points. Had he been eligible for the NBA draft last June, he may have made it on an NBA roster last fall. He also may not have. But the choice wasn’t his to make, because the league has had a rule in place since 2005 that you have to be 19 years old and a year removed from your high school graduation to work there.
The Commission on College Basketball, established by the NCAA, has urged the NBA to drop the restrictions on high school players who wish to advance directly to the league. On Thursday, USA TODAY reported the league submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association to lower the draft-eligible age to 18, by the 2022 draft.
Much has been said about this since Wednesday night, when Duke freshman superstar Zion Williamson sprained a knee in the first minute of his team’s game against North Carolina.
Williamson would be in his NBA rookie season were it not for the league’s rule. Had he suffered a major injury Wednesday, the probable No. 1 draft pick this year would potentially have lost a lot of money.
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“I think if you’re good enough, you should be able to go right from high school,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s what I think. I don’t think anybody is wrong. I’m not accusing anybody of being wrong, right. But I think if you’re good enough coming out of high school, you should be able to go right to the NBA. Your only professional option shouldn’t be Europe.”
The Hawkeyes’ leading scorer, junior forward Tyler Cook, has a former high school teammate (the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum) who played one year at Duke before turning pro.
“Obviously,” junior forward Cook said, “being a player I’m all for the freedom of players being able to make their own decisions. I think it would be great if people were allowed to go straight from the pros, especially guys of that stature coming out of high school with that much hype and their name.
“I love college basketball. I love what it’s given me, the opportunities it’s afforded me. But at the same time, I feel if you can make that jump and that’s what you want to do, you should be able to do that.”
What many have pointed out in the wake of Williamson’s injury is how ticket brokers were charging astronomical prices for UNC-Duke. The primary reason was Williamson.
“I could talk about this for days,” Cook said. (He didn’t raise the topic, by the way, he was asked about it Thursday.) “Yeah, we get free education, and I appreciate that more than people really understand.
“At the same time, especially a kid like Zion Williamson, ticket prices were like Super Bowl-range and he can’t receive a dollar. He can’t make money off his own name without getting in trouble.
“That is something that definitely needs to be looked at and changed. I feel like if I’m able to make money off who I am, that’s it, I should be able to do that. I feel like that’s your right that, not only college athletes, but people should have in general.”
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There was irony in Williamson blowing out a Nike shoe on the play in which he was hurt. Williamson and his teammates aren’t paid to endorse Nike, but the company signed a 12-year contract extension with Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2015.
Anyway, here comes Langford and the Hoosiers for an 8:15 p.m. game Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Why such a late tip-off time, and why on a night of the week that traditionally had been left alone by major college basketball in deference to the high school game?
TV money. Which will get funneled to a lot of people and places, but not the performers themselves.
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