It's an awkward time to be talking high school hoops. The basketball world is concentrating on next week's NBA draft and the Boston Celtics' coronation. However, this story on ESPN.com caught my eye and I thought it was worth mentioning.
Brandon Jennings is the top-ranked point guard in the nation and has committed to attend Arizona in the fall, but due to a large discrepancy between his first and second standardized tests, he was flagged and now awaits the results of a third test. If he doesn't make the grade, he says he'll just go to Europe to play for pay until he is eligable for the 2009 NBA Draft.
When the NBA ironed out its last collective bargaining agreement - making it necessary for high schoolers to spend a year playing basically ANYWHERE before they could apply for the draft - this was a scenario that was brought up by some pundits who were quickly dismissed. The prevailing knowledge was that any American kid with NBA aspirations would naturally spend at least one year in a college, gaining exposure and possibly pulling a Carmelo Anthony (that is, leading his team to mainstream postseason success on CBS and sending his stock soaring as Melo did in his only year at Syracuse). After all, these are kids who have grown up with regional affiliations, they all watch the Final Four, they all know the words to One Shining Moment. There is just no way, at the tender age of 18, they could be money-hungry enough to eschew tradition and ply their trade some place where they might actually get compensated for it. Is there?
Apparently, there is. According to ESPN, O.J. Mayo considered going the same route before entangling himself in his current problems. Spanish import Juan Carlos Navarro of the Memphis Grizzlies has announced he will leave the NBA to rejoin FC Barcelona. The difference in his options, when taking the weak dollar into account, is the difference between about $1.2 million in Memphis versus $15 million back home, US. And he was a journeyman role-player. What happens when the Euro Leagues start offering the Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durants and Greg Odens of the world one-year, $25 million dollar contracts? Will the recruits bite? Will the NCAA game suffer? I would think so. Will Euro-American players suffer on draft day? It is like the old tree-in-the-forest adage: If you average 30 points per game in Tel Aviv, does it make a sound?
I ask you, readers, what learning experience would you rather have at age 18: 1. A year of paid education at a top unviersity while being the big man on campus, or 2. A year making millions touring parts of the world you may never get to see again?