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Say It Ain’t So, Gordon

Hayward and the Bulldogs

I’ve waited three weeks since the end of the NCAA basketball tournament to write this. It’s good sometimes to wait before you say something that’s on your mind; maybe you’ll change that little mind of yours, or obtain new information that alters your opinion. Maybe you’ll find a less hurtful way of telling your boyfriend he’s a stupid, selfish bitch; or maybe not. 🙂

Butler basketball star Gordon Hayward wants to jump to the NBA.

So do JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore of Purdue. So do countless throngs of wannabes. I think they’re making a terrible mistake.

These three are all fine college basketball players. With Johnson and Moore, Purdue made it to the Sweet Sixteen last month, without their star running mate Robbie Hummell.

Hayward’s Bulldogs lost the National Championship game by two points to Duke.

What could be more predictable than that these very good college players would want to sign for big dollars with professional teams? If somebody’s offering you money, you take it. There’s big money involved.

But I think it would be a terrible mistake for all three of them. Why? They’re not good enough. They’re not mature enough. They’re not ready.

Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore. That’s a very respectable number for a college boy, but it’s not going to sell a lot of tickets in Miami.

A junior, Johnson averaged the same 15.5 ppg. Moore, also a junior, was slightly better at 16.4.

All three of them have deficiencies in their game, which they could work on if they stayed in school. None of them are so outstanding that businessmen are lining up to make them millionaires.

When you compare them to the best players they’ll be competing with in the draft, guys like John Wall of Louisville and Evan Turner of Ohio State, Johnson, Hayward and Moore look like also-rans; good players, yes, but not that special. Nothing to get excited about.

The league they want to play in, the National Basketball Association, is wealthy and, to some people, glamorous, but it operates on very different assumptions than the college game.

College boys play 30 games a year; NBA’s season goes 82 games. That’s a lot more wear and tear on the body, and on the fans who are far more cynical and demanding. The right to boo comes with every $100 ticket. How many points would Hayward likely average over an 82-game season?

He’s a boy becoming a man; he’s not a man yet. He’s 20 years old. Johnson and Moore are 21—old enough to make their own decisions, yes, but young enough that they cannot know what they’re getting themselves into if they get drafted and turn pro.

I’m not sure any of them will get drafted; if I owned a team I wouldn’t pay them millions. (All of them have reserved the right to remain in college; wise decision.)

Instead of letting themselves get seduced by the possibility of big money, they ought to ask themselves, Where is the best place to use my talents? Where will I grow as a player and a person?

In the NBA’s thug-and-drug culture, or on campus?

Every one of them is a good student; Hayward and Moore are Academic All-Americans, an incredible achievement. Johnson is very articulate; he makes Purdue fans like me proud when he speaks. These are smart kids!

I admit as a Purdue fan I have an interest in keeping Johnson and Moore around for one more run at a National Championship. I don’t have a “vested” interest because my money’s not on the line; I have a rooting interest. My mother, grandfather and I are Purdue alumni; and yes, I would love to have our school (not our team, our school!) finally win it all.

Butler came so close this year; and wow, what an inspiring story their team was. The TV ratings for the championship game were the highest since 1999; a David-and-Goliath story for the ages. (Goliath won, though.)

Butler University has built its basketball team for the last decade and a half using homegrown talent, much as Purdue has, but without Purdue’s fame and money. Butler’s built a winning tradition with no-names like Hayward and Matt Howard, Avery Jukes, Zack Hahn, Shelvin Mack.

For years now Butler’s Bulldogs have slowly built a national reputation for winning, despite a succession of coaching changes. It’s a small school, and as soon as they do well another school comes along and steals Butler’s coach by offering more money.

—Money, the exact thing Hayward’s chasing now.

Sometimes the former Butler coach succeeds brilliantly, like Thad Matta at Ohio State. Sometimes the former Butler coach falls flat on his face, like Todd Lickliter at Iowa. He got fired because he could not reproduce The Butler Way at a school ten times bigger with its own way of doing things.

You have to match who you are and what you can do with the right environment. Are you listening, Gordon? E’twaun, JaJuan?

One of the lessons here is that money distorts a person’s thinking. Todd Lickliter had every intention of exporting The Butler Way to Iowa City. But he should have stayed at home. That million-dollar contract isn’t going to help him come September.

A young coach named Brad Stevens took over for him at Butler and took the Bulldogs all the way to the National Championship game. That could have been Lickliter, but it wasn’t. He’s now out of a job.

I don’t want that to happen to JaJuan, Gordon and E’twaun. I want them to play for 20 years, make millions of dollars and retire in glory—when they’re ready.

They’re not yet, and no one’s telling them so. They need to stay in school and use their brains as well as their bodies.

Myself I don’t care for the NBA game, which starts and ends with phony hype. “E’TWAUN… MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!” Puh-lease, he’s averaging 6.2 a game.

Meanwhile he gets exposed to hustlers and gamblers, groupies and ripoffs, when he’s a 21-year-old kid from East Chicago.

I especially don’t want Gordon exposed to all that.

He’s a religious kid from Brownsburg, a Christian kid, an innocent who loves his twin sister, a tennis player at Butler. I don’t want Gordon thrown into the lion’s den by being tempted with money.

He’s going to make lots of money in his life; it shouldn’t be this way. He needs two more years to learn how to face the hustlers and ripoffs.

He ought to stay home with his sister. That’s where he belongs.

With luck he’ll come to that same conclusion. With luck it’ll be Butler against Purdue for the National Championship, and all of them with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Oh, but what if they get hurt like Robbie Hummell did? What if they never get the chance at big bucks?

What if the sky falls down?

Money’s a drug, Gordon. It’s no surprise the pushers are coming after you.

Don’t succumb. That is, don’t die. Please!

NBA or not this year, you’re going to spend the rest of your life talking to your sister, not the hustlers and groupies and addicts and ripoffs.

Invest your emotional capital in her; then you’ll be ready when the time comes to face the lions.

Don’t do it, JaJuan; don’t throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for at the world-class university whose degree will open doors for you the rest of your life. The NBA will still be there a year from now, and you’ll be a better player.

Don’t do it, E’Twaun; please be aware that your intelligence is not the match you think it is against hustlers and criminals and thieves. They’re better at their game than you are at yours.

Make a statement, guys; be a kid. Stay in school.

And I hereby absolve all of you from any requirement that you win a national championship for my sake, or Mom’s or Granddad’s. My hopes are not relevant to your lives. You’ve got to live for yourselves and for God.

Ask God what you should do and be guided by the answer. I could be wrong; but I bet it’s a lot more important to God that you stick around for your total development than that you take off early to chase the bucks.

Whatever you decide I’ll support you; thanks for all the thrills you gave me this past year.++

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