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College teaches NBA skills that other draftees don't get

By Bruce Pearl, for
Posted Jun 19 2009 9:42AM

Bruce Pearl :: Head Coach :: University of Tennessee

Bruce Pearl has it rolling on good ol' Rocky Top.

In four seasons at Tennessee, Pearl has led the Volunteers to an average of 24.5 wins per year, three SEC Eastern Division titles, an overall SEC championship, the school's first No. 1 national ranking, a school record 31 wins in 2007-08 and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament--including back-to-back appearances in the Sweet 16. He has been named SEC Coach of the Year twice (2006 and 2008) and earned national coach of the year honors two times as well.

With a .774 career winning percentage, Pearl ranks as the fourth-winningest active Division I head coach with at least three years of experience. His winning percentage is tops among all head coaches in the perennially powerful Southeastern Conference. And his teams have led their respective league in scoring in 16 of his 17 seasons as a head coach.

Click here for Bruce Pearl's full bio

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, part of NBA TV's and's coverage of the NBA Draft, offers five reasons why seasoned college players have an advantage in the Draft over one-and-done college standouts and international players:

1. Time Management Skills, Maturity

Players who have spent time at the college level are forced to learn time management skills. It's a must because all of a sudden they have to balance their basketball obligations -- like practice, film review, weights, etc. -- with their academic responsibilities while at the same time maintaining a social presence on campus. Most college programs have numerous support systems in place to help their student-athletes adjust to life as a student-athlete. But as the players progress each semester you can see them becoming more and more responsible and cognizant of being on time and prepared.

Players who do not have the benefit of learning these time management skills -- particularly kids who make the jump to the NBA after a short stint in college -- are really not as well equipped for the transition from living at home to joining a multi-million dollar organization as a professional.

There's a social and academic maturation process that takes place in college that I believe is very, very important for young men to go through. It's even more important when you consider the money NBA players make. They need to know how to make good decisions financially. Because the money can run out if you're not wise about what you do with it.

2. Ability to Break Down Defenses

Again, this probably pertains more to younger players, but the amount of time spent breaking down film at the college level is a valuable learning tool. I see this in my players constantly. As they spend more and more time in our system, they become more adept at recognizing weak spots in defenses and knowing where to attack. Freshmen start off asking a lot of questions. Then as they progress year by year, you see the film work translate into the decisions players make on the court in practice. As a freshman, a player may not know where to position himself off the ball. But as he gets older, he can read a defense and know exactly where the soft spot is and he is capable of taking advantage of things like that. My players can attest that we spend a lot of time breaking down film. And they'll also tell you it's been a key to our success.

3. Strength to Grind Out a Long Season

In addition to film study, college players also spend a great amount of time in the weight room. A good strength coach, coupled with a nutritionist or a dietician -- which many programs, such as ours at Tennessee, have on staff -- can really help a player develop physically in just one year. A year spent in a structured college weight program can be the difference between a guard who is easily knocked off course as he drives to the basket and a guard who can withstand contact from a big and still maintain the ability to get to the basket and finish strong. In the NBA, you're going toe-to-toe every night with guys like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Shaq -- oh, and don't forget you're also jet-lagged -- so your body is going to need to be able to withstand the league's physical demands.

When a guy is 18-22 years old, his body is still growing and developing. Here in the SEC we have that tough, football mentality. That translates to a physical level of play in our game. International players may be slightly ahead of American players in terms of skill development, but we hold the edge in physical development.

4. Knowing How to Play Defense the Right Way

The defensive intensity in the college game is leaps and bounds above what most young players experience in high school or overseas. When you look at the types of players who are in a position to jump to the NBA after a short college stay or international play, what dominates their highlight reels? It's usually not clips of them getting down in a good defensive stance and keeping the ball handler in front of them. Young players want to dunk and drive and dish, but it's rare to find players who get no greater pleasure than manning up and getting in your grill and knowing that from start to finish they are going to lock you down and make you a non-factor. I'm not saying those players don't exist, they're just a rare breed. Those are the players I get excited about. Those are the kinds of players I want to coach. Those are the guys who make the difference on championship-caliber college teams. And so you'll hear the names of those types of players called on Draft day.

5. Experience on the Big Stage

Guys who have played in college are ready for the big stage that awaits in the NBA. In my four seasons at Tennessee, we've played more than 50 games on national TV. We've ranked in the top five nationally in attendance each year. So when a guy like Tyler Smith makes his transition to the NBA, he won't be shell-shocked by all the hype. Why would he, when he's already faced the pressure of taking (and making) the go-ahead shot to the beat the nation's top-ranked team ... on the road ... on national television?

Experienced college players get to the NBA knowing how to deal with the spotlight. They know how to deal with the media. It's old hat. They also know what it's like to get heckled by 20,000 fans on the road or step up to the free-throw line with an arena full of fans doing all they can to make you miss.

Look at the NCAA Tournament. Is there anything in the high school or international game that can compare to that stage?

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