Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Brandon Jennings: Trendsetter?

Numerous media outlets (including myself) reported over the weekend that Brandon Jennings, the consensus #1 recruit in the country committed to Arizona, was looking at the Euroleague as a fallback option in case he didn't receive qualifying scores on the SATs. Well, it looks like spurning Tucson may not be simply a fallback option after all.

Gary Parrish of CBS Sports spoke to Kelly Williams, Jennings' advisor, and what he had to say probably did not comfort Wildcat fans:

"In all honesty, I think Brandon wants options," Williams said by phone. "If he has the opportunity right now to make $800,000 from a team and get a shoe contract and make more than $1 million before he even goes into the draft, then why wouldn't he do that?"

It is a very good question - why wouldn't he? What can he gain by going to college? He gets to go through the farce that is a one-and-done players academic regimen (sleeping through classes, having tutors help him with do his work for him). Add to that that Jennings, as well as the coaching staff, athletic department, and school in general, will have to worry about every "extra benefit" he receives, hoping to avoid the negative press and impending punishments that USC currently faces, all while the school is cashing in the checks from merchandise revenue, ticket sales, and tournament bonuses as a result of Jennings' basketball ability and star power.

Does that sound more attractive than playing professional basketball in Italy, or Spain, or France for a year, making upwards of (or more than) a million Euros (which at this point is like, what, $2 million)?

David Stern and the rest of the NBA's Front Office suits can talk until they are blue in the face about how 17 year old high school seniors are too young to be drafted or how the NBA Draft's age requirement helps protect NBA team's because it allows them to have a full season of scouting while the player's are at college. In fact, the new rule actually hurts the scouting of draft prospects because NBA teams are no longer allowed to watch these kids play in high school, which is part of the reason this draft is so wide open and unpredictable right now. Read this quote that SI.com's Ian Thomson got from an NBA General Manager picking in the lottery:
"A lot of people are under pressure in this draft. There's going to be a couple of guys who go after the first two in the lottery who will be potential All-Stars, and a couple of young guys picked way back in the 20s who will be really good, and one guy in the second round whom everyone misses on.''

The problem, he went on to say, is that no one can tell the future stars from the potential stiffs. The reason for this uncertainty?

"The age of the players,'' he said. "These players used to come out of high school or even after two years of college. Now the rule is that they have to play one year of college, and that's what a lot of them are doing. We aren't allowed to watch them in high school anymore and so we're trying to judge them based on one year of college. It's not enough. Not being able to watch the high school players is really hurting us. Otherwise, we'd all have better knowledge.''

The only reason that Stern has put in the horsesh*t rule is because he wanted NBA teams to stop drafting high school players that noone has heard of and instead draft college athletes who have already made a name for themselves. Do you think there would be as much debate over Beasley vs. Rose if they had both been coming out of high school? Would Oden vs. Durant have gotten as much pub if neither had stepped foot on a college campus?

This rule is also good for the NCAA. Before the age limit, the best high school players in the country were completely skipping college, but now the NCAA gets a year to showcase these stars. So basically, if you are a high school star, the NBA forces you to play a year in college, where the NCAA and universities exploit these kids, profiting of their ability to put fans in seats (in front of a TV or in a gym) and jerseys on the backs of fans, simply in order to increase their marketability before they reach the professional level. This only furthers the argument that college players should receive some type of income (and don't give me the whole "they are receiving a free education" argument when you know damn well the best players won't be there for four years or have any intention of graduating).

So back to the original point, this could be a landmark decision. It is a tough one, however. Jennings', although supremely talented and athletically gifted, does not really fit the Euro style of play - he is a flashy penetrator that likes to get up and down the floor. Combine that with the language barrier and the fact that he will be playing with physically mature, grown men, and there is a possibility that he could hurt his draft stock if he goes abroad and does not perform well (then again, he may go to Arizona and stink up the joint).

On the other hand, Jennings' would be going into a situation where he would be a professional - where his life wouldn't revolve around staying eligible, it would be entirely focused on the sport that will become his career. He will be living in another country, which means he will have to learn to be responsible and mature in his decision making, both regarding his sport and the money he will be making. If you are an NBA GM, isn't this the kind of education you want your top prospect to be getting? Or would you rather him learn how to do a 30 second keg stand and bring home sorority girls?

If Jennings' does end up playing in Europe, it would be interesting to see if this establishes a trend among top high school prospects. On paper, it doesn't look so bad.

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