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Tom Izzo: If Kentucky’s players were white, ‘I think it would be different’

Apr 9, 2012, 9:15 AM EDT


Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answered bluntly when William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asked him if race played a factor the perception of highly talented, predominantly black college basketball teams. By extension, that would include national champion Kentucky.

“I want to answer that as honestly as I can,” Izzo said. “I think it would be different. I hate to say that. It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”

After winning a national title at Kentucky, John Calipari has five players, including national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, on track to enter the NBA draft, shed their amateur status, and begin to make money off of their talents as a professional.

For all the criticism that Calipari has faced in his tenure as a college coach, it is undeniable, especially at Kentucky, that he has helped players launch lucrative basketball careers, a path which gives them an opportunity to better themselves and create financial stability for themselves and their families.

One of the attributes that makes Calipari so successful at the college level, aside from the sincere caring he has for his players and their futures (which any coach worth his salt should have, anyway) is the recognition of one fact:

Not every career is made in a classroom.

For high-major players, many of whom come from humble beginnings in working class households, college is an apprenticeship program, a stop along the way to a professional career (and a highly beneficial one, at that).

Why can’t the college experience be viewed that way?

Cramming a star athlete into a science laboratory and forcing him to play with pipettes and flasks for four years can do just as much good as forcing a future technological entrepreneur, someone with the potential of Steve Jobs or Bills Gates, to study geology without end.

There is no negative connotation here, no implication that athletes somehow possess less intelligence than any other college student, as the NCAA’s ‘dumb jocks’ campaign so counterproductively planted into the minds of fans.

The argument is about harnessing the type of intelligence that a certain student has and helping that person utilize it to make a living. While others may succeed with a calculator or paintbrush, Anthony Davis is one of the most kinesthetically intelligent students in the country.

And believe me, he is on track to make a lot more money off of that intelligence than most. With good financial planning, he could be set for life.

If there were colleges and universities that prided themselves on churning out star artists and business professionals after one or two years, leading them into high-paying jobs and giving them opportunities to succeed, would we have the same outrage as we see with these Kentucky underclassmen possibly entering the NBA draft?

For the players at the very top like these players in Calipari’s program, they have an economic opportunity that has not been afforded to many others in the general population.

It makes for great debate to take the intellectual “high road” and say that players should stay four years, graduate with a degree, and have a fall-back plan.

But the reality of the situation is this, and any business professional (regarded so highly it seems, in comparison to athletes) will tell you: When the difference between staying in school and going pro is a decision between zero-income amateur status and multi-million dollar professional and sponsorship contracts, there comes a point where it is imprudent not to go pro.

For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.

As Rhoden of the Times writes so eloquently in metaphor about the jump to the NBA for players from low-income backgrounds:

“But when you are being pursued by the poverty hounds and see a fence, you jump it and take your chances with whatever is on the other side.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

[Post updated 9 April 2012, 3:03p.m.]

  1. 1historian - Apr 9, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    A stupid article based on a stupid answer to a stupid question in a stupid newspaper.

    If I were choosing people to be on a basketball team and I had to choose between a white guy and a black guy and they were the same size and I knew nothing about either one of them I would choose the black guy.

    • florida727 - Apr 9, 2012 at 12:03 PM

      Arguably the stupidest post I’ve seen in months on CBT. Congratulations. You’re officially an idiot.

      Daniel, excellent article. I want to comment on one specific paragraph…

      “For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.”

      Best paragraph of the entire article in my opinion. It should come with a “warning label” though. Too many kids these days think that because they excelled at the high school level, or even at the college level, they’re assured of NBA riches. They’re not. Unfortunately, too many of them have been “advised” by those close to them that think more with their heart than an unbiased head. They mean well (most of them anyway), but the reality is an exceedingly small percentage of athletes ever earn a living at their chosen sport.

      I love the idea of money management, public speaking, etc., courses being offered. Unfortunately, so many of today’s professional athletes do come off as nothing more than “dumb jocks”… and for good reason.

      BTW, “historian”, I’d take Pete Maravich over any combo guard you can name. Period.

      • claritytime - Apr 9, 2012 at 1:09 PM

        The Red Flag on “historian” is, of course, his comment about a “stupid newspaper.” Most of us know what that identifies him as. Ironically, those who believe that the NY Times is a “stupid newspaper” know little or no history.

        Martin even initiates his thesis in a short paragraph: “Not every career is made in a classroom.” And then amplifies that thesis in subsequent paragraphs. Too complex for “historian,” apparently.

        Finally, Martin’s belief that college functions as an “apprenticeship program” for these young athletes applies, as well, to a large percentage of all college students. The days are long past when most college students attended for the “love of learning.” Given a choice, many, if not most, non-athlete students would go as directly as possible into the field of work that they “think” they are interested in, especially if the financial rewards were as high as those offered to professional athletes.

      • evanhartford - Apr 9, 2012 at 2:48 PM

        I think its intellectually dishonest to compare Steve Jobs/Bill Gates to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Anthony Davis.

        Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are hardly pioneers in their profession. Their acumen in their chosen field is largely based on genetics (not race). I’m not saying that they didn’t work hard but if they were both 8 inches shorter, they would not be playing basketball for a living. Their decision to leave college was more about common sense than anything else.

        Gates/Jobs changed the world (and their professions). They also took A LOT more risk in dropping out of college. Their acumen was based almost entirely on their hard work. You could argue that genetics played a role, but I wouldn’t call them “freakishly intelligent” in the same way I would call Davis a “freakish athlete”. There are millions of people that are much smarter than Jobs/Gates, but I doubt there are many people on this earth as physically gifted as Davis. Gates/Jobs had no guaranteed NBA money calling to them. They saw an opportunity, seized it and got lucky along the way. Their decision to leave college made sense ONLY in hindsight.

        I get what this author is trying to say. If you have an opportunity to make a lot of money, you should jump on it. He’s also insinuating that race may be a factor in how people are being critical of Kentucky and “one-and-dones”. On a more basic level, the only problem I see with “one-and-dones” is that millions of kids (right or wrong) see them as role models and these guys don’t even put in an effort to talk about the importance of education.

        The bottom line is, only a few thousand people make money playing basketball, everyone else should place a priority on education and personal development. The NCAA (or NBA) should be working a lot harder on public relations. If “one-and-dones” are going to be the reality of college basketball, they should be a big part of the “dumb jock” campaign. The bottom line is, nobody really cares about the 2183048209438 other student athletes that go pro in something other than sports. If you want to deliver that message, who better than Anthony Davis talking about how his situation is unique, that kids should focus on education and that 99.999999999% of all people have no future in basketball (or something to that effect).

      • texizz - Apr 9, 2012 at 8:36 PM

        Pistol Pete was a great player in his time, however, he could not compete with todays athletes!

    • matthewpgrace - Mar 17, 2014 at 12:50 AM

      william Rhoden once said Barry Bonds was treated poorly cause he was black..LMAO

      Bonds was treated poorly cause he is a Lying, Cheating Clemens , Braun, Armweak, and the biggest FRAUD of them all Marion Jones..

  2. jumbossportsblog - Apr 9, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Reblogged this on jumbossportsblog.

  3. larrybrown43 - Apr 9, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    I read the headline and the first four paragraphs. I didn’t understand the premises so stop reading.

  4. bozosforall - Apr 9, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    1historian – Apr 9, 2012 at 10:12 AM
    A stupid article based on a stupid answer to a stupid question in a stupid newspaper.

    If I were choosing people to be on a basketball team and I had to choose between a white guy and a black guy and they were the same size and I knew nothing about either one of them I would choose the black guy.

    Maybe Rhoden should have significantly dumbed down the article for you and then syndicated it to the Boston Globe, 1hysterectomy.

  5. skids003 - Apr 9, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    The last half of the article has nothing o do with the title. 1historian is right in his ponit about the stupidity of the article. Tom Izzo ansered very well, it looks like a question to get someone to answer in a politically incorrect manner so the reporter could butcher him.. Hats off to Mr. Izzo for his answer. Rhoden is a hack.

  6. smcgaels1997 - Apr 9, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    The article has nothing to do with the question asked. I have no issue with kids leaving early to pursue an NBA career..but the question was would it be different if the players were white. We all know it would be. If Kentucky had all Kevin Loves and Jason Kapono’s you wouldn’t hear about how all of them are top 10 picks.

  7. blakspartan - Apr 9, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    @florida, Pete Maravich hardly played defense

  8. sfm073 - Apr 9, 2012 at 8:41 PM

    The only outrage I see about one and doners is articles like this declaring that there is an outrage. Nobody blames these kids for leaving to go to the nba, we just feel it hurts the sport to allow this to happen.

  9. teedraper - Apr 10, 2012 at 1:05 AM

    Of course Izzo is right!

    We have age limits to go pro in predominantly black sports like football & basketball. While predominantly white sports like baseball, tennis, etc kids can go pro at 18.

    All it is is Jim Crow all over again but in a less oppressive way.

  10. davisjosh20 - Apr 10, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    One thing that a lot of people are overlooking, is something Rick Pitino said in an interview a year ago prior to Louisville’s opening practice, when you have these players who, are going to be the one-and-done players, it becomes more important for the players to do as well as possible in their studies in high school, to be sure they are academically eligible to get into a top level school like Kentucky, Duke, UNC, Louisville, etc. Because in years past, before the rule change, a player who was a top athelete, didn’t necessarily have to go to a top level program to be noticed by the NBA scouts. So the focus on their studies wasn’t as high as their focus on sports. They could either go straight to the NBA, or, a school that wasn’t as expectant on the how’s, or test scores. Or the player could go the JU-CO route for 2 years, then transfer, which was actually a deal between say, Northern Alabama, and Alabama. So, now, these kids have to be sure they make it in the classrooms, to make sure they can get into the Vanderbilt’s, the Florida’s, or the Michigan State’s. So, anyone who says that these players that are knowingly going to college to play for one year, then go pro, are actually academically inept themselves.

  11. davisjosh20 - Apr 10, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    One more point to be raised about going pro, straight from high school, before the rule, for the LeBron’s, Kobe’s, and Garnett’s, there are at least 7-10 players that fell on their face at the pro level.

    • highclassscumbag - Apr 10, 2012 at 3:03 PM

      That’s not true of at all. 42 players have declared for the draft straight out of high school between 1995-2005. 39 were drafted. 30 are still in the NBA.

  12. franklamar17 - Apr 10, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    I feel the same way

  13. eddieflorida - Apr 10, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    It’s a matter of values.

    In my view, a college education is worth more than jumping to the NBA.

    Yeah, yeah: I know they’ll get paid a lot. But think of their future lives when the money is gone, the ability diminished. they need the degree. It will make them whole, educated people.

    And sadly there’s nobody, but perhaps their tutors in the athletic department, who is coaching them in this way for life.

    • highclassscumbag - Apr 10, 2012 at 3:30 PM

      They can always go back and get their college education after they are done in the NBA.

  14. 1historian - Apr 16, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    To quote myself:

    “If I were choosing people to be on a basketball team and I had to choose between a white guy and a black guy and they were the same size and I knew nothing about either one of them I would choose the black guy.”

    I seem to have pushed a bunch of buttons the wrong way.

    1) It is a hypothetical situation. (Look the word up in the dictionary – that’s a big book with a bunch of words in it that are defined.)
    2) How many white guys are even starting in the NBA, let alone all-stars?
    3) Pete Maravich – I know who he is, therefore he wouldn’t be in the question.

  15. 1historian - Apr 16, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    To quote Sgt. Joe Friday – “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”

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