Kyrie Irving played one year at Duke (2010-11) before moving onto the NBA and promptly winning Rookie of the Year. LeBron James didn’t even consider college, though he might have been able to have one renamed for him if he wanted. Coming directly to the NBA out of high school James was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. Shooting guard J.R. Smith also arrived in the NBA directly from high school, the 18th pick in the 2004 draft out of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. Tristan Thompson played just one year at Texas (2010-11) before being drafted No. 4 in the NBA draft. Kevin Love played a single season at UCLA before being chosen fifth in the draft — that’s three years of college ball total for the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers starting five.
Straight out of high school players have long been NBA fixtures, from Moses Malone to Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. But never has a championship team been dominated by players with so little college experience. (Even Shaq spent two seasons at LSU, offsetting Kobe’s high school-only pedigree for the Lakers.) Champs of recent vintage, the Warriors and Spurs, were both led respectively by 3- and 4-year college guys named Curry and Duncan. Even James’ old running mate in Miami Dwyane Wade, a 3-time champ, stayed at Marquette though his junior year. For a decade now the league has required that a player must be a year removed from high school to be drafted. But the new NBA is increasingly dominated by one-and-done players. College basketball is simply no longer a training ground for the elite, as the Cavaliers prove definitively.