It is just too easy for any of us to say that Utah’s Kyle Kuzma and BYU’s Eric Mika have made wrong decisions by entering the NBA draft with college eligibility remaining.
Would they have improved their draft prospects by staying in school another season, or even two years in Mika’s case? Probably so. Will the Utes and Cougars miss them in the coming season? Absolutely. They would have been great college players in 2017-18, and fans will miss watching them play. Some degree of lamenting these losses is understandable.
But what’s apparent is they were eager to start their pro careers, and the positive aspect of it all is they made their decisions with good information available to them. The outcome of the June 22 draft may suggest that one or both of them ignored some of that feedback, but at least they went through the process properly by not initially hiring agents.
In other words, they could have chosen to stay in school before the May 24 deadline. Creating that option is one of the best things the NBA ever has done in the entry process. No. 1 is the rookie wage scale, basically eliminating any chance of a first-round pick holding out all summer for more money — as even John Stockton once did.
There are a lot of basketball players in the world, as Kuzma and Mika will discover. Some risk is involved in their decisions, and it is possible they heard just enough positive information to affirm choices they pretty much had made before they went to the pre-draft combine in Chicago last week.
Kuzma, in particular, is believed to have helped himself in Chicago, with many projections of being drafted at least in the second round. Mika likely is on the border of being drafted. Otherwise he surely will get a free-agent shot.
These guys clearly wanted to go to the NBA, and they’re going. They will have opportunities to develop in an NBA system that’s becoming more and more like baseball with D-League affiliations. That structure helped former BYU star Kyle Collinsworth, for example, as he played regularly for Dallas’ affiliate this past season. And it will be fun to watch Kuzma and Mika as they presumably play against the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18.
As for how Utah and BYU are affected, the personnel losses are significant. With other defections in the Pac-12 and some good recruiting lately by coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff, Utah suddenly was looking like a top-tier team with Kuzma. Without him, the Utes logically will fit somewhere in the middle of the conference.
Mika’s departure from BYU is a big letdown for fans who long anticipated the convergence of the Lone Peak Three of Mika, Nick Emery and TJ Haws. Nobody attached to the Cougars would have imagined them playing together only one year or that their shared season would end in the first round of the NIT.
But that’s what happened. BYU coach Dave Rose will have to reconfigure an offense that he built around Mika, whose 20.3-point average will be difficult to replace. Rose’s teams usually have been fast-paced and perimeter-oriented, so he can revert to playing that way.
This is a different world for fans who remember the likes of Danny Ainge, Tom Chambers, Danny Vranes, Keith Van Horn and Jimmer Fredette playing all four years at BYU or Utah. But it is the reality of 2017, and all fans can do is hope their departed players succeed in pro basketball. Hoping they fail doesn’t do anybody any good.
And the consolation for each fan base is that the other program is being equally weakened.