Rutgers Athletic Center
The Rutgers Athletic Center, since renamed the Jersey Mike's Athletic Center is home to both Rutgers basketball teams.
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PISCATAWAY, NJ—Three Rutgers men’s basketball players declared themselves as eligible for the National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft, while two Rutgers women’s players have also declared themselves for the Women’s NBA (WNBA) Draft.

Of those athletes, two have entered their names and are still in consideration in the NBA Draft, while maintaining their eligibility to play for Rutgers if they go undrafted thanks to recent rule changes.

College athletes need to declare their desire to be drafted in order to be considered. There exists different legal categories of applicants depending on the education and other professional choices by players.

These types of declarations are currently required if a college basketball player is still in college, under the NBA rules and the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The male athletes will maintain college eligibility with new changes to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules. However, women’s basketball players are not afforded the same opportunity to maintain NCAA eligibility if drafted by a professional team.

The decision to go to school to play basketball or put all of the player’s eggs in one basket and “go pro” remains to be a tough one for many young hopefuls.

In the NBA, no player can sign a contract until they are at least 18 years of age and generally have one year lapsed since after their high school graduation.

Players who have not graduated college, and are therefore not automatically eligible, but wish to still be drafted, can be considered must declare their eligibility no later than 60 days before the draft. 

This is what is sometimes known as the “one-and-done” rule, the result of a case before the Supreme Court of the United States when a University of Detroit sophomore Spencer Haywood sued the NBA under the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

The Supreme Court allowed Haywood to play for the NBA, despite the NBA rule prohibiting those with less than four years after high school graduation from signing with a team.

Haywood had already turned professional with an American Basketball Association (ABA) team called the Detroit Rockets. The ABA later merged with the NBA.

Today, if players have remaining intercollegiate basketball eligibility, they can still be considered to play for the NBA but they must declare themselves as “Early Entry” applicants.

In other words, players who have played at least one year of college basketball are eligible for the NBA draft. 

Rutgers senior Ron Harper, Jr. and Jaden Jones, a first-year student, would maintain their collegiate eligibility should they not be drafted. Despite being a senior, Harper has an extra year of eligibility granted to all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Harper has not signed up with an agent, Jones has signed with Durrant Sports Management, and thanks to new rules by the NCAA as of 2019, some athletes have the option to return to school if they go undrafted. 

The NCAA, in an effort to promote successful completion of a college education by its players and fairness, changed its rules so that any college student who made payments to a sports agent would no longer be categorically banned from further participation in any of its teams.

Today, if players have remaining intercollegiate basketball eligibility, they can still be considered to play for the NBA but they must declare themselves as “Early Entry” applicants.

In other words, players who have played at least one year of college basketball are eligible for the NBA draft. A player who declares for the NBA draft, historically, had lost their college eligibility even if they went undrafted.

The changes benefit players like Rutgers first-year athlete Jaden Jones, who has signed with an agent. 

However, women’s players actually have to opt out of their NCAA eligibility in order to participate in WNBA drafts.

In other words, there still exists no “one-and-done” rule for female basketball players, making it impossible for female players to declare WNBA eligibility and maintain their college eligibility with the NCAA.

Women may someday get the same rights in a future bargaining process, says WNBA Players’ Union executive council and acclaimed player Sue Bird. She said a “one-and-done” rule can be discussed in the future, in a public statement

According to NBC Sports, Bird believes “players should always have a choice.”

Both of the Rutgers basketball teams had an impressive 2021-22 season.

The Men’s Basketball team alone won five B1G Ten Conference awards, with Rutgers senior Caleb McConnell winning 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year, and thus becoming the first Rutgers athlete to win an individual award in the B1G Ten.

Ron Harper, Jr. won All-Big Ten Second Team, in addition to Rutgers senior Geo Baker winning All-Big Ten Third Team (Coaches) and Geo Baker, Cliff Omoruyi, Paul Mulcahy, Caleb McConnell all winning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.

The Scarlet Knights also made it to this year’s NCAA Tournament, named March Madness, even throwing one of the games into an epic Double Overtime.

Rutgers senior, Ron Harper, Jr., has been widely projected as someone who may be picked. He is, also, the son of five-time NBA champion Ron Harper who most famously played for the Chicago Bulls and one of many basketball players in the family.

Recently, it was projected by ESPN.com that Harper may very well get signed by an NBA team in this year’s draft, possibly in the second round, this June in the second round.

“The last 4 years have been nothing short of a dream come true. I’ve made countless relationships that will last a lifetime. I watched the RAC/JMA transform into the nation’s best home court advantage. It’s simple. The fans are the reason!” wrote Harper in his public statement regarding his NBA draft declaration.

“These are the fans that have embraced me since I stepped onto the Rutgers campus in 2018. They are the best fans in college basketball hands down,” wrote Harper, who won the All-New York Metropolitan NCAA Division I’s Haggerty Award, which is the Division I men’s college basketball player of the year.

In addition to the Lt. Frank J. Haggerty Award, Rutgers seniors Harper, McConnell, and Geo Baker also won the Division 1 top three NCAA All-Metropolitan Awards.

Harper Jr.’s father, Ron Harper Sr., also of Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers fame, has another son, Dylan Harper, who plays basketball. Currently, Dylan is a high school student and on the radar of talent scouts.

A proud Ron Harper, 5x NBA champion, shares a special moment with his son on Twitter.

“It is a dream come true. I really think it’s a nice thing to have a kid follow your footsteps. It’s definitely an honor and it’s a lot of due respect to the hard work that he put in,” Harper Sr. told New Brunswick Today. “Like I tell him, we don’t predict what’s going to happen. Let’s let ourselves enjoy an opportunity. He has all the tools, all the knowledge and it’s up to him to believe.”

“Like I always used to tell him growing up as kid, I want you to be better than me… Everyone’s going to be harder on you because you’re my son.”

“Don’t listen to the outside,” he added, “Listen to me, your dad. Listen to the people who believe in you. And everybody else don’t worry about that noise.”

Ron Harper Jr. studied Criminal Justice and on Wednesday will be getting his degree in Communications. 

As for Harper Sr.’s younger son Dylan, still in high school, Harper Sr. explains he is played at the same high school his name sake played at.

“They are always competing. That’s one thing they always did. They play hard and have fun. I’m just so happy for him and them both.”

“As a player and former player who knows about the ball game, you always say stuff [about the game], and I’m pretty glad he went there. Rutgers did a great job not only with their basketball team, but their other sports.”

“They really transformed him into an adult,” Harper Sr. mused. “And that is awesome.”

From the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, this year alone, two players have declared themselves as early applicants for the Draft.

Those Scarlet Knights would be Osh Brown, a graduate student and winner of the 2021-2022 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award among other awards, and Rutgers Shug Dickson, another graduate student, having won in 2021 honorable mention as All-Met Player of the Week.

Brown was a NCAA Division I active career leader in two categories including rebounds (totaling 1,389). She graduated with 1,821 career points after leading Rutgers with 10.8 points per game this season.

“My college career has come to an end [and I am] excited to declare for the WNBA Draft!” the Guard wrote in her declaration.

Dickson led the University with 87 assists in the 2021-22 season, averaging about 3.6 per game.

Caleb McConnell, who initially entered his name for consideration by the NBA, recently withdrew his name from this year’s draft, and is returning to play for Rutgers for his last year of remaining college basketball eligibility.

“I’m excited to return for one last ride with the Scarlet Knights in 2022-23,” McConnell said. “I learned a lot going through the process of training for the 2022 NBA Draft. I want to give a shout out to my coaches, my teammates, and my family for helping me make this decision about my future. We’ve built so much over the last four seasons at RU, and I can’t wait to see what we achieve next year.”

McConnell, named 2021-2022 Defender of the Year by the Big Ten Conference, had also declared for this year’s NBA Draft.

“Thank you to Coach Pikiell for believing in me and recruiting a kid from Jacksonville, Florida, and Dayton, Ohio to play at Rutgers when few people believed in me,” wrote McConnell in part in his statement.

“Caleb McConnell has been the ultimate ambassador for our program on and off the court,” Steve Pikiell, head coach for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights basketball team, said in a press release. 

Jaden Jones, a Rutgers Freshman, has also declared for the June 23 NBA Draft, part of weeklong series of events concluding on June 27.

Jones wrote, “I have gained a lot from my experience as a Scarlet Knight and have grown tremendously because of it. Thanks to my teammates for pushing me to be better everyday.”

Head coach Pikiell said, “Jaden has been an outstanding teammate, a thrill to coach and we want the best for him and his future.

“The Rutgers men’s basketball program is excited for Jaden to explore the opportunity of declaring for the NBA Draft,” the head coach said in a statement. “Our program will support Jaden and his family throughout the entire process.”

The last time a Rutgers student was drafted, it was Arella Guirantes, becoming the 21st Rutgers student drafted by the WNBA.

The last time a Rutgers male student was drafted by the NBA was in 2010 when Hamady Ndiaye signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Before that, it was Quincy Douby in 2006 with the Sacramento Kings. Douby also won the Haggerty Award in 2006. In total, there are 23 total male NBA players from Rutgers.

There are a recorded 22 WNBA players from Rutgers.

Others include: Kahleah Copper 2016 with Washington Mystics, now with Chicago Sky; Betnijah Laney, drafted in 2015 by Chicago Sky and who is now with New York Liberty; Erica Wheeler drafted in 2015 by two teams the Atlanta Dream and the New York Liberty and is now with Atlanta Dream as of this year; Essence Carson who in 2008 was drafted by New York Liberty and who has been with the Connecticut Sun since 2020; Epiphanny Prince was drafted in 2010 by Chicago Sky and in 2020, by Seattle Storm. Prince has many WNBA and other awards, including WNBA Champion (2020). Kia Vaughn was drafted in 2009 by New York Liberty and is now with Phoenix Mercury.

There have been about 23 Rutgers men’s players in the NBA, according to an automated sports management data site, Real GM.

Reporter at New Brunswick Today
732-743-8993
mobrien@nb.today

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.

Molly O'Brien

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.