At first blush it would appear that Tigers great Al Kaline and Detroit Pistons draftee Andre Drummondhave about as much in common as Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow.

But it’s very appropriate that Drummond was drafted this week.

For it was 59 years ago last Monday that Kaline made his big league debut, subbing late in the game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.

It was so long ago that the Athletics were still two stops away from playing in Oakland.

The tie-in to Drummond?

Kaline was all of 18 years and six months old when he spelled Jim Delsing in center field that day in Philly.

Drummond is 18. He’s yet another baby that the NBA allowed to be drafted with impunity.

And he’ll strive to be the first teenager to have any success in Detroit pro sports since Steve Yzerman, and Stevie was the first to do it since Kaline.

Kaline had just 28 at-bats as an 18-year-old, but as a 19-year-old “veteran,” he had 504 at-bats and hit at a .276 clip. Not bad for someone who was just a few years removed from having his meat cut up for him.

In his first year as a non-teen, in 1955, Kaline became the youngest player ever to win a league batting title.

So there you have it: I’m comparing Drummond to Al Kaline.

But what’s a little more pressure to put on a kid, eh?

Can’t be any more than what is heaped on these youngsters who are practically ripped from their mother’s wombs and deemed to be saviors of various NBA franchises.

The first two kiddies plucked off the board Thursday night were both from Kentucky—which continues to churn out NBA players as Penn State did with NFL linebackers back in the day—and both teenagers: power forward Anthony Davis and the very appropriately named guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

It was the first time in league history that the first two players selected both came from the same school.

But it was hardly the first time that the first two were barely old enough to vote. In this year’s draft, the top three picks were teens.

The NBA draft used to be as intriguing as its NFL counterpart, because there was actually a time when the league drafted young men, not adolescents.

It was about a generation ago when the incoming NBA players were three- or four-year starters in college. They still played at the Kentuckys and the Dukes and the North Carolinas, but they played there long enough for us to at least have seen them on a few Saturday afternoons on television.

We knew the incoming pro players because we watched them, we read about them and we saw their big plays on the 11:00 news highlights—for at least three years, if not four.

Kentucky—naturally—had a guard in the late-1970s named Kyle Macy. He was a starter on the 1978 national championship team.

But since Macy was a transfer, we heard about him, and because the rules mandated that he sit out one full year after his transfer, by the time he graduated, you would have sworn that Macy was college basketball’s first six-year player; that’s how much it seemed we saw of Kyle Macy’s playing for Kentucky.

So when it came time for these young men to be drafted into the NBA, there was some familiarity. There was some attachment. We knew their strengths, their weaknesses.

But above all, we knew their freaking names.

Full disclosure: I’m not a hardcore NBA guy, to the degree that I can keep tabs on prospects one year removed from attending fourth hour and remembering locker combinations along with half-court plays. But I suspect I am far from being the Lone Ranger in this area.

I picked up a few names as the draft grew closer.

I knew of Davis, of course, and North Carolina’s John Henson, because he was projected as a possible choice for the Pistons. And a few others, Drummond included.

It was like I had to do a crash course—pull an all-nighter or two to get marginally up to speed.

The feeder schools didn’t change; still the usual suspects who have been birthing NBA players since the days of the four-corner offense.

But oh, those player names.

But that’s the way it is nowadays: Colleges are lucky to get more than one year out of their superstars before they take their basketballs and backpacks—and crayons, for all I know—to the NBA.

Andre Drummond, a 7-footer from Connecticut, has been described as a freak. The people who know about such things say that Drummond, who skipped his last year of prep school to enroll at UConn, is a premier defender, shot blocker and, with a 7’6’ wingspan, a Pterodactyl on hardwood.

What they also say is not to expect big things from him for two or three years. Then, he will team with Greg Monroe to give the Pistons a frontcourt worth the price of admission.

Huh—don’t expect big things for two or three years? Then why draft him now?

Because the NBA allows it.

Here comes the old fuddy-duddy in me, bursting to the surface.

If I were David Stern, NBA commissioner, I would insist that no one be eligible for my league’s draft unless his 20th birthday occurs no later than October 31 of the draft year in question—which is right around the start of most seasons.

This year’s draftees had to be born by December 31, 1993. Under my rules, the cut off would have been October 31, 1992.

No more one-and-dones in college. No more festooning teenagers with millions, just a year after their senior proms. No more using college basketball as a faux attempt at a bachelor’s degree.

You want to play in my league, son? Put in at least two years of college ball; then we’ll talk.

You want to make millions? Then give me two years of college, at least, to put yourself on the path to a degree so you can be something after your basketball skills erode.

But if you want to use college basketball as nothing more than a hop, skip and a jump to the pros, we politely decline.

Don’t come at me with age discrimination or that I’m unfairly denying someone a right to earn a living. Playing in the NBA ought to be a privilege, not a right. And the commissioner ought to draw the line at teen players.

Not that 20-year-olds are bastions of maturity—but you have to start somewhere.

Meanwhile, the rules are what they are, and Andre Drummond will suit up for the Pistons this fall, like so many of his first-round brethren, as a teenage “freak” making millions, more than two years away from his first legal sip of alcohol.

Drummond will know more about the pick-and-roll than economics; more about setting screens than U.S. history; more about the half court than the Supreme Court.

And he’ll make a king’s ransom doing it.

Then one day he’ll be 33 years old and in the twilight of his career, at an age at which most men are just finding their professional strides.

I wonder what that one year of college will do for him then?


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