I've noted several times over that I'm not a writer who spends much of his time chatting with sources, getting inside scoops on everything that happens in Texas athletics. Yet, as I noted on Monday when I filed my story on what I'd learned about the Durant Decision, I did dig deep in this case because I felt so personally invested in the outcome. I really wanted one more year of Kevin Durant, as we all did.
Though I don't normally spend time digging up inside notes that shed light on why this or that happened - in this instance I wanted to. And what I learned is critical to understanding why Kevin decided to turn pro and perhaps telling as to what we should expect in this new era in which every 18 year old prospect has to spend a year in college.
In the case of Kevin Durant, we were blessed with a player who fell in love with his college experience and decided that - all things being equal - he'd prefer to remain in college. He further decided that another year in college would be good for his growth as a person and a player, that bypassing the NBA was something he could live with, and that the business side of the NBA was substantially less appealing than the innocent camaraderie of the college experience.
I know for a fact that these things are true. . . and yet he still turned pro.
What in the hell are we supposed to take from that?
For one thing, I think it tells us that we were all a little bit naive about how this whole process works. We forget that these kids grow up dreaming to be as good as Michael Jordan in Chicago, as opposed to out-performing TJ Ford in Austin. We forget that no matter how wonderful a year on the college campus is, that amateur basketball is, always has been, and always will be, a stepping stone to the glories of the NBA.
I think in Kevin's case we were dealing with an incredibly interesting juxtaposition - the tension between his desire to relive this amazing first year in college basketball and the desire to reward his parents for putting him in position to be the person (and player) he is today. He chose the latter, at the expense of the former, and I think that we'd all (Texas fans or not) be wise to take notice of the implications of KD's decison: After all, this may very well be as close as we're going to come to having a top five NBA talent deciding to stay for a sophomore season. Kevin Durant wanted to. He wanted to badly.
And he still couldn't do it.
It makes me believe that Greg Oden will declare. It makes me believe that, once eligible, virtually all top five NBA picks will forgo college for the NBA. It makes me think that I need to appreciate exactly how strong the pressure is on these kids to make it to the league, sign while their value is peaked, and shun (however difficult it may be) another go-round in the delightful collegiate merry-go-round.
As sad as I am to see Kevin go, the rational analyst in me believes he did the right thing.
Put yourself in Kevin's shoes for a moment. As easy as it is to say that staying another year at Texas has its (legitimate) benefits, Kevin's decision more or less confirms that even those of us with the best intentions have little chance of successfully "staying amateur." Despite everything that KD felt about returning to Texas for one more year, the decision wound up being no decision at all. Certainly not when the people you care about more than anyone else in the world - your parents - have the most to gain by you setting aside another year of "what you want to do."
In short: the fact that Kevin Durant, who wanted more than (almost) anything to stay at Texas, decided to turn pro tells us that all us collegiate sports fans need to be realistic about what's actually at stake in these matters. It's bigger than our university. It's bigger than us fans. And in many cases, it's even bigger than that which the athlete in question wants to do.
Kevin Durant is 19 years old, with a limitless future in front of him. As badly as he wanted to ride with us for one more year, he did what almost any rational agent in his position would do. . .
The smart thing - he went pro.
There's no one on the planet more disappointed in his decision than I am, but I'll be damned if I won't be one of the most supportive, too.
Let's face it, boys and girls. This has nothing to do with you, me, or UT.
It's bigger than all that. Wish Kevin all the best in his future. Believe me, if there's one thing I confirmed this weekend, it's that he deserves it.