Mankiw said “maybe“. See the orginal article in WSJ.

By Dr Mankiw, please refer to you own priciple “Rational People Think at the Margin. A rational decision-maker takes action if and only if the marginal benefit of the action exceeds the marginal cost.”

For student anthlete, “marginal benefit is going pro, marginal cost is playing 3-4 year for nothing”. I assume they are rational, so they must think playing in college give them higher chance to go pro than playing in europe. See what Bradon Jennings is doing. But remember, most pro team is not going to take time to develop the 11 or 12th person on the team (from pitino).

In my opinion, the students are just taking their risk and hoping for higher return. Beside, how much you will trade for a college experience?