The Shadow League attended CBS and Turner Sports NCAA Media Day and interviewed a bunch of NBA greats, celebrity sports journalists and media movers and shakers in anticipation of another emotionally-riveting March Madness run.
I sat down with three members of TNT’s four-headed monster (Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny “Jet” Smith, Shaquille O’Neal) and Emmy-Award winning crew for Inside The NBA.
Sir Charles Barkley kicked it about NCAA student-athletes, the age restriction rule and of course the captivating players and storylines in college basketball this season.
Gambler: Top teams like Kentucky and Virginia have stifling defenses. Is it just great defense we are seeing in college this season or is it that most of these cats just can’t shoot anymore?
Barkley: It’s funny. I think it’s a combination of both. You got to play defense to win, but I think that these players don’t work on their game as much as they should. We focus a lot of our time on AAU ball. I’m not a big fan of AAU. I think these guys play the game strictly on talent. They have talent but they don’t really know how to play the game. I think that’s the big difference.
Gambler: National College Player of The Year?
Barkley: I might go with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. They are breaking records for offensive efficiency. Duke’s (Jahlil) Okafor has had a good year. It’s probably between those two guys.
Gambler: You were very vocal when we spoke at this same event last year with players staying in school. The NBA wants the age restriction for entering the pros to be 20 year old. You agree with that?
Barkley: Yeah, I don’t like players jumping into the NBA. I wish they would stay in school at least two years.
Gambler: Then isn’t it a good thing this season that a bunch of upperclassmen (Kaminsky, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Kentucky’s Willie-Cauley-Stein, Villanova’s crew) are being featured this season because last year it was really all about the freshman trio of Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
Barkley: Well...it’s a fluid situation. If they made a rule that guys had to stay in college for two years it would help college and the NBA.
Gambler: In light of the recent NCAA sanctions against Syracuse and Jim Boeheim and the NCAA lurking around prestigious programs such as North Carolina, is it fair to the kids who didn’t break any rules to be penalized?
Barkley: Well…I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. I think we should do more for these players. Everybody’s making a lot of money off these players. You know these institutions and the surrounding media and fans spend all this time talking about five or six players and thinking of ways to adjust the rules for a couple of players. Most of these guys need to worry about their education because they got no chance of playing in the NBA. So the most important thing is still for these athletes to get their education. Only a couple of guys are going to play in the pros.
The most important thing we’ve got to stress, especially to young Black men, is that they get their education. Because less than 1 percent of all college players are drafted and go onto the NBA. The chance to get a free college education …you can’t put a price tag on that. It’s a very interesting situation about what we should do for the players because we’re all doing something wrong.
Gambler: Kevin Ollie took UConn to the NCAA c’hip last season. That was definitely a surprise. Outside of Kentucky and its nine McDonald’s All-Americans and crop of future NBA ballers, who can win it all?
Barkley: I don’t think there’s going to be a surprise of that magnitude again this year. Kentucky is the clear favorite. I like Arizona. I like Wisconsin. I like Duke. I like Gonzaga, but it’s all about Kentucky this year.
The chance for Kentucky to go undefeated has obviously gotten everyone’s attention. There are two reasons why it is an amazing feat. To win every game is truly amazing and when you're Kentucky, everybody that plays against you, that game is like their Super Bowl so that compounds it.
Sometimes if you have undefeated teams that kind of came out of nowhere like last year with Wichita State's Final Four run, they don’t have the bull’s-eye on their back all season. The daily pressure is not there. Kentucky was ranked No. 1 from the beginning and that’s what makes it even more amazing.
Gambler: Do you take Karl-Anthony Towns or Okafor if you’re a GM?
Barkley: I take Towns. I just like him.