But Ratcliffe brings up a point well worth discussing outside the specific example of Landesberg: where can young players best be developed?
Arguably, Landesberg was a worse player as a sophomore at Virginia than as a freshman. The guard won ACC Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, beating out sure-fire lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest and first-round lock Ed Davis of UNC. Landesberg put up basically identical numbers this season. His supporting cast has been pretty bad, and the team was 214th out of 347 D-I teams in shooting this season. This doesn't excuse Landesberg from culpability -- he took more shots than any other UVA player, and shot no better than the team as a whole. But, in other words, the program didn't really set Landesberg up for success.
(I should also mention that Virginia this season played at one of the slowest tempos in the nation, roughly five possessions per game fewer than average. Landesberg is a great ballhandler and fine athlete, but not a clever passer or particularly adept shooter, and those types tend to do better in more up-tempo settings than halfcourt systems. Coach Bennett, the son of legendary Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, took over at the end of Landesberg's freshman season and slowed things way down.)
So Landesberg didn't improve (according to the numbers) at UVA, and the team around didn't look like it was getting much better. What exactly is the point of staying, if not for the free top-notch education? If Landesberg is interested in becoming a professional basketball player and isn't interested in art class, isn't it within the realm of possibilities there could be a better option?
Ratcliffe, in his column, jokes that Landesberg might well end up in the NBA D-League, supposing he goes undrafted or is drafted by a team who'd prefer to stash him in the minor league for player development purposes. Ratcliffe makes it pretty clear that in his opinion, the D-League is inferior to the ACC. But for Landesberg's purposes and goals, is that necessarily the case? Again, Landesberg didn't improve under Bennett. His team is constantly overmatched, and the team plays a style perhaps not conducive to his style. That's not a wag of the finger at the UVA coach (considered one of the nation's finest) -- that's just stats-based reality. Will Landesberg do better in the D-League, or Europe? That remains to be seen. (DX's Jonathan Givony has previously reported that because Landesburg's father is Jewish, Landesburg could apply for an Israeli passport and play in that league next season, I believe without counting as a foreign player.)
Don't forget also that the D-League obviously offers a clearer path directly to the NBA. The number of call-ups this season has been staggering. And the called-up players aren't all just visiting for cups of coffee. Anthony Tolliver made it onto league-sanctioned wallpaper, for crêpe's sake. Ratcliffe mentions Greivis Vasquez, the Maryland point guard who did greatly improve his draft stock by staying for his senior season. (Vasquez flirted with the draft last spring, realized he had a strong chance of going undrafted, and went back to school. He figures to be in the first-round conversation this June.) But Landesberg has no guarantee he can follow Vasquez's path -- again, the Maryland system had much better co-stars, and one could argue Gary Williams's style fit the freelancing Vasquez pretty well. And still, there's no guarantee Vasquez will land guaranteed money. There's no guarantee Vasquez himself won't be in D-League next season.
I don't profess to know whether Landesberg's lack of development of UVA is an indictment of Landesberg himself, the situation or the school. But it's clear it didn't work. It's untenable, to me, to criticize Landesberg for trying something different. And it will untenable to argue that if he does not get drafted in the first round this June his gambit has failed. There are many different paths to the NBA, and Landesberg has decided that the most familiar one isn't working out for him.
I also don't aim to give Landesberg a free pass for ditching his teammates by virtue of ditching school. That's a knock, one which won't likely escape NBA decision-makers come June. But draft stock isn't the ultimate goal here. A pro basketball career is. And if Landesberg and others can develop their games more effectively in the D-League or Europe than in big-conference college ball, then it'll pay off in the long run.
UPDATE: After publishing this, I heard from two fellows who made some great points about Landesberg's sophomore season. Clarence Gaines (@cjrock24 on Twitter) used to work as an NBA scout. On Twitter, he wrote about what he saw from Landesberg earlier in the season, and discussed the Bennetts as coaches.
Ben Allaire of DearOldUVA.com also checked in with some thoughts on Landesberg's season under Bennett. This is a snip of that dispatch.
Landesberg improved substantially. He improved all the aspects of his game that scouts ratted him out on: assist rate, turnover rate, three-point shooting. All of this while upping his usage rate significantly. I agree that his teammates are crap - even running mate and high eFG% guy Mike Scott had a schizophrenic year, but is it possible that he's completely and totally getting the short shrift here?That is highly possible; my assertion he hasn't improved since his freshman looked more at his scoring, which is to say he's no more efficient overall (due to a dip in foul-drawing) than he was as a freshman. But Ben has seen much more Landesberg than I, so I'll defer on that point.
It's clear that Landesberg, however, thinks he can either better develop his game at the next level (whatever that may be) or is ready to make his case to the NBA. We'll see.