Alonzo Mourning, who played four years at Georgetown, says freshmen entering NBA draft ‘don’t blossom until after third year’

Alonzo Mourning forged a Hall of Fame career after playing four years at Georgetown. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Alonzo Mourning had a discussion with his foster mother nearly 30 years ago similar to ones that likely have taken place all over the country in the last few months.

College freshmen, most still teenagers, anxious to leave school and enter the big-boy world of the NBA. For Mourning, that talk with Fannie Threet resulted in the skinny 6-foot-10 center returning to Georgetown for three more years to receive an education. … on the court as much as off.

“I was determined to stay four years and that was because of my surroundings,” Mourning told the Palm Beach Post. “(Then Georgetown coach) John Thompson, the track record the university had with graduation rates. My foster mom, who was a huge influence in my life.”

Three decades later many of those discussions end with parents or guardians giving their children their blessings to forgo the rest of their college careers and enter the NBA.

Ready or not.

Most projections have freshmen being taken with nine of the top 10 picks in Thursday’s NBA draft. Some have all 10 being freshmen before Frank Ntilikina, the first international player expected to come off the board, is selected. CBS Sports’ big board has 12 of the top 16 players being freshmen.

“It’s ridiculous,” Mourning said.

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Mourning, 47, believes that decision he made shortly after his 19th birthday is a big reason why he has been such a success on and off the court. Mourning played three more seasons at Georgetown in which he was a two-time All-American and the 1991-92 Big East Player of the Year. Three years ago Mourning was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and he remains a part of the Heat organization as a vice-president.

Of course, what choice did he have being raised by a school teacher?

“It was always about education, education,” Mourning said about Threet, who died in 2013 at the age of 98. “I made that the No. 1 priority.”

In 1992, Mourning was taken second overall by the Hornets, behind Shaquille O’Neal. Mourning averaged 21.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks as a rookie.

“I was ready, physically, mentally, I was ready,” he said. “Same thing with Tim Duncan. He stayed (at Wake Forest) four years and as soon as he came in, boom, immediate impact. You’re not going to sit here and tell me that those four years don’t make a huge difference in the development.”

And Mourning now has proof.

Fewer and fewer players are making an instant impact out of college and the proof is in the 2016 draft, considered one of the worst in recent memory.

With top overall pick Ben Simmons missing the season because of a foot injury, the player who has emerged as the favorite for rookie of the year is Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, who was selected in the second round, 36th overall.

Brogdon played four years at Virginia.

The rest of the draft in which the first three picks and five of the top eight were freshmen, and 10 freshmen were selected in the first round is filled with players with potential but beyond the top three picks of Simmons, Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, even that is limited.

“You look at these young guys, they really don’t blossom until after that third year in the league,” Mourning said. “Three years they could have been in college.

“Now more than ever they look at the years of earning. ‘I can earn these three years right here even though I’m developing I’m still earning. I’m not earning while I’m in school. I’m earning money for the NCAA but I’m not earning money for myself, my family.’”

Players who enter the league around the age of 20 have an opportunity to sign up to three max or big-money deals after their rookie contract. Mourning entered the league at 22 and was in position for two big deals. After signing a seven-year, $105-million contract the Heat in 1996, Mourning was diagnosed with a kidney disorder that affected his next deal, which was for $22 million over four years.

“They look at those three years as an earning potential and how quick they can get to a second contract and then they have room to get to a third,” Mourning said. “I never really got to a third because I came in late.”

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