Former CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer said in an interview on “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television, that the University of Kentucky is the “prohibitive favorite” to win this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship, while the college game is being hurt by players who leave for the pros after one year.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: Welcome back. For decades, his voice was the one heard across the country during March Madness. Former CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer, the best at what he did, and a fellow Demon Deacon, joins us now from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Billy, great to have you on. Let me start off. You’re a keen observer, even though you’re not doing the games on CBS. The caliber of teams this year and players, better than average, below average, what?
BILLY PACKER: Well, I would say, in regard to a historical perspective, the game is not what it used to be because of so many kids leaving early, so that the talent level of teams that play in intercollegiate basketball now is way off of what it used to be. But from a standpoint of the historical perspective of who are these teams and who are the guys coaching them, it’s about as good a Final Four as you could possibly put together.
HUNT: Oh, boy, it sure is. Let’s talk about that one-and- out. John Calipari has mastered it at Kentucky, works for him, may even work for some of the players who make it big in the pros, but it wouldn’t seem to work for the concept of a student athlete or the value of an academic environment.
PACKER: Well, one of the things that I felt -- and it was a huge article this morning in USA Today by Mark Emmert, who’s the president of the NCAA, he’s kind of like your Washington people. He either knows and is trying to put a positive spin on something, or he doesn’t know, but in either case, the final conclusion that he makes that guys leaving one and done is an overhyped issue.
It’s not at all. It’s changed the entire historic perspective of the intercollegiate game, and it’s affected the NBA, as well, and a negative impact in most cases.
And if Mark Emmert doesn’t understand what it does to intercollegiate basketball, not the kids that go and they’re successful, but the kids that think they’re going to go or kids that are told that they’re going to be great at age 16, and that’s their only perspective, only to fall short, but in many cases when it’s too late.
So it’s not the kids that go and that are successful. It’s how it undermines the game.
HUNT: It’s bad for the game and bad for -- and bad for college.
PACKER: Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. The reason that the college game gained great success was because it built history with inside teams. I mean, you and I are graduates of Wake Forest. Tim Duncan will forever be part of their history. Tim Duncan was a four-year player. You watched Tim progress not only as an individual, but also as a basketball player. And by the time he got to be a senior and went into the NBA, he was ready to impact immediately and had a lot of notoriety, which could be implemented by the NBA.
That no longer is the case. And therefore, I think it not only hurts the intercollegiate game -- can you imagine, there are probably right now -- he talks about 40 kids left after their freshmen year since it was implicated in ‘06. Those 40 guys would be on probably 20 teams. Those are 20 teams that would be improved by players of NBA caliber.
And in addition to that, underclassmen, sophomore and juniors, that would still be playing are over 100 kids that would be playing college basketball, completely changing the landscape of the quality of the upper echelon teams and also their ability to play and eventually be marketed well by the NBA, having shown what they can really do.
HUNT: Billy, I understand why some kids leave, because they don’t have any money, they need to make money, et cetera, but why does a guy like Austin Rivers, the son of a multimillionaire Boston Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, a great university, Duke, a freshman, why does he go NBA?
PACKER: Well, I think that you can separate the need from those that have no need in this respect. Austin Rivers would be simply an example of what the modern kid -- he’s recognized when he’s about 15, maybe even younger than that, 14 years of age. He’s groomed in AAU summer leagues. His entire focus is on being told that he’s going to be a superstar in the NBA.
So the mindset of these kids is that college is a pass- through. And in many cases, it’s very difficult, even for a coach like Mike Krzyzewski, who without question is an incredible coach, able to get that mindset to say, you know, son, you are a good player, you can become a great player. You’re not that yet. There’s a lot of things you have to learn how to do.
I never did see him, by the way, ever stop anybody one on one defensively on the perimeter. So is he ready to be an NBA player that can help a team to the playoffs by next year? The answer to that is no. But it’s so engrained in his mind, even though -- and I know Doc Rivers extremely well -- even though his father would be able to give him all kinds of examples, that’s what he wants to do.
So, therefore, that is his only goal in mind, and a goal that I think is really kind of foolish, because in my mind, he had to prove -- and still has to prove - that he can take a team, put them on his back, and throughout the course of a season, lead them to an ACC Championship, much less an NCAA Championship, to be a productive NBA player of impact.
HUNT: OK. Last year on this program, you strongly suggested the UConn Huskies would win it all, and they did. Now, everybody this side of Barack Obama says Kentucky is a cinch in New Orleans this weekend.
PACKER: Well, let me interrupt you on that. Why did he pick North Carolina?
HUNT: I don’t know. Because -
PACKER: Sure you -- sure you do. It’s a swing state, and it’s where -- that’s where the -- the Democratic convention is going to be held.
PACKER: So I’ll leave it at that.
HUNT: This year is Kentucky, a lead pipe cinch, or can somebody beat them? And who’s the most likely to beat them?
PACKER: Well, I think that this year any one of the teams are capable of beating any one of the other teams in a one-and- done situation, and that’s what makes the tournament so great. I would say this year that Kentucky is a prohibitive favorite because of the way they play, and there are so many different things that they can do on the court, both offensively and defensively, that gives them an excellent chance to win this. And I think they are the prohibitive favorites.
HUNT: OK. Billy Packer, as always, it’s great to see you.
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