The journey from high school to college and into professional sports is one that has been taken by thousands of athletes in North America.
However, it is a pathway that has become less enticing in recent years as the stars of the future have increasingly headed down different routes.
The concept of not spending multiple years at college is alien to Thurl Bailey, who was part of North Carolina State University’s NCAA basketball championship-winning team in 1983.
NC State were unconsidered in the basketball betting that season, but overcame the odds under legendary coach Jim Valvano to claim an unlikely victory.
During that era, it was not uncommon for players to play three or four seasons in the NCAA, but the introduction of the ‘one-and-done’ rule changed the landscape.
Players are eligible for the NBA draft after playing in college for one year, thus giving them a pathway to riches without completing a full slate of studies.
Having spent four years in college, Bailey was drafted seventh overall by the Utah Jazz in the 1983 draft. He played for 16 years, before retiring in 1999.
Since quitting professional basketball, Bailey has used the education he gained at NC State to immerse himself in community projects.
He runs basketball camps where he teaches young people lessons about life and the sport. These often focus on students with serious illnesses or disadvantaged backgrounds.
Bailey’s record of service has resulted in numerous leadership awards including the NBA’s prestigious Kennedy Community Award and the Utah Association for Gifted Children’s Community Service Award.
He also works with various charities, including Make-A-Wish, D.A.R.E. and the Happy Factory, further demonstrating his commitment to supporting those less fortunate than himself.
Bailey is adamant that the four years he spent at college taught him valuable life lessons and does not believe the current system is conducive to producing insightful athletes.
“I’m not a big fan of it, and that’s probably because of what I was used to and what I thought about my college education at the time – that’s really why I went to college,” he said.
“Because of how I was raised and the environment I was raised in, I knew that my education was going to be the very most important thing to get me to success. And I still believe that.”
While the opportunity to sign multi-million-dollar contracts in your late teens may seem enticing, losing out on your education is rarely a good thing.
One of the biggest issues has been the amount of money educational establishments have been making from the massive national interest in college sports.
While NCAA coaches and the schools have been able to rake in the cash, the players have been left on the outside looking in.
Bailey acknowledges that telling budding professional athletes they should be satisfied with getting an education is effectively exploiting their talent to build the college.
The NCAA has moved to address the situation by introducing new rules allowing college players to make money through endorsements.
Athletes will still not be paid directly by universities beyond the cost of attendance, and the NCAA has insisted that athletes cannot be considered employees of their colleges.
While Bailey has welcomed the changes, he is unsure whether they will have the desired effect of keeping athletes in college.
“Money is one of the great influencers – everybody needs it to survive,” he added. “These kids have a great opportunity to make money.
“When you’re using these players and their likenesses to make money, the time had come for the NCAA to figure it out. Especially when a lot of these kids come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It’s also changing because now a lot of these high school kids, of course they can’t go straight to the NBA, but there’s other avenues. They don’t have to go to college now.
“Even the G League has their own elite team that are grabbing these players and trying to develop them for the next level, so there’s competition right now for these athletes, and these athletes want to get paid for their talents.”