FAYETTEVILLE — Courtney Fortson may have not signed with an agent when Arkansas first announced his intention to enter the NBA Draft on Sunday, but it didn't take him long.
The ink was dry on a contract with Charles Briscoe of BP Sports Management in Atlanta by Wednesday evening, and Fortson's career as Razorback was over nearly as quickly as one of his ankle-breaking penetrations into the paint.
Here's Arkansas coach John Pelphrey's official statement on Fortson's departure. Arkansas' sports Media Relations Department released the statement when requested, but not as a general release.
"Courtney Fortson has decided to sign with an agent and we are appreciative of him keeping us in the loop as he and his family made decisions about his career," Pelphrey said. "We wish him all the best as he follows his dreams of playing professional basketball and thank him for his effort over the last two seasons as a member of the Arkansas Razorbacks."
During his recruitment, it was known that Fortson saw himself as a two-year college player, so it wasn't a surprise when he made mention that he would look into his professional opportunities following the Hogs' first-round exit from the SEC Tournament. And it wasn't a surprise that he went ahead and signed with an agent.
We can all speculate on what his chances of being drafted are. He might go in the second round, but I doubt it. He might sign a free-agent contract and make an NBA roster, but I doubt it.
But, Fortson doesn't care. I'm sure the way he sees it, he has been proving doubters wrong all his life, and I'm guessing he believes with all his heart he's going to do it in this instance, too. He just needs a chance.
Well, he is good enough to get a chance at the NBA. Scouts will look at him, but his future and route to NBA will likely go through a foreign country or in the development league.
But, I'm sure in Fortson's mind right now any pay for playing is better than having to play by the NCAA's and for that matter Arkansas' rules.
To be hones, I have no clue what type of student Fortson was at the UA. That type of information is protected by law and should be. But considering Pelphrey alluded to problems with getting Fortson to go to class in the past, I'm guessing his education wasn't his first priority at Arkansas.
That's not really a criticism. If it were it would be an indictment of myself. I'm not sure an education or even a degree was my first priority my first two years at the UA either. Certainly, I eventually found my way and became a dedicated student, but I doubt seriously graduation was ever Fortson's intention.
He wanted a shot at his dream of playing in the NBA, and obviously he felt playing at Arkansas for another year or two wasn't going to improve his chances. In fact, he had an object lesson in Mike Washington to drive the point home.
Washington tested the NBA Draft waters last year and returned to Arkansas for his senior year. Now, to me that was a surprise. Generally when a player has the NBA in his eyes, it's hard for him to see anything else.
Washington returned to Arkansas and had an injury-plagued year. He fought through pain and injuries to have a senior season that statistically was a shadow of his junior season. While Washington would have been a long shot to make a NBA roster last year, his senior year at Arkansas probably didn't advance his NBA chances.
While Fortson might not be considered a scholar, he is intelligent ,and he saw his teammate's struggles. He also knows Washington didn't get paid.
And I'm guessing Fortson is talented enough to get paid playing somewhere. Probably not the NBA, but somewhere.
And if that's what the kid wants, why begrudge him?
Is Fortson letting an opportunity to gain a college degree for no money go away? Sure, but at this moment and depending on what type of money he's able to garner from his talent, a degree is not and might not ever be important to him. However, he might look back on it and think leaving school early was the worst decision he ever made. But it's his decision.
The difference between Washington and Fortson is that Washington and his advisers placed more value on a college degree than Fortson's. By returning for his senior year, Washington is that much closer to his degree, and whether pro ball does or doesn't work out for him, a degree will be much easier for him to obtain because of the wise decision he made last spring.
No, Washington's senior season didn't help him on the court, but it did not make him a worse player, and it did allow him to work on that degree.
My problem with this situation is why should Fortson have felt forced to go to college to pursue a career in basketball in the first place?
The NBA's rule that ultimately forces its prospective workforce to spend a year in college is heartless and detrimental to many young men like Fortson. It does not force them to be better college students but rather dangles bait in front their face.
When Fortson and others like him signed a letter of intent, their only intent was to do what was necessary to get them to the NBA the quickest. The NBA's rule fosters that type of thinking. The league essentially uses the NCAA to take some of the risk out of drafting players. The college games allows the NBA to get a better book on a potential selection than prep basketball does.
But make no mistake, the rule is harmful to kids like Fortson. It devalues the opportunity that their talent gives them to not only play college ball but also gain a college degree.
The NBA is a business, and it is about protecting its franchiseswitht he rule, but the league should adopt a policy more like Major League Baseball where players can be drafted and signed out of high school and later after their junior and senior years of college or upon completing an associates degree in junior college.
Such a rule would mean only the best of the best players who are truly ready for the NBA would be drafted out of high school. The rest of the best would go to college or junior college and be given the time to make their time at an institution of higher learning a vehicle for their dreams rather than an obstacle.