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Can go to war, but not the NBA

March 20, 2009

I just finished watching “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”.  Gumbel did a segment on Brandon Jennings, the high school star that decided to play bro basketball in Italy instead of going to college.   Whether it was the low SAT scores, the monetary needs for his family, or a lack of wanting to sit through classes, Jennings has gone to Italy, and has started a revolution.  Until four years ago, high school basketball players were allowed to skip college and go directly into the NBA.  For some (Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Lebron James, Tracy McGrady) the risk paid off, as they transformed into multimillionaires, and celebrities overnight.  For every one of these success stories there are hundreds more that end in ultimate failure.  The NBA decided to implement a rule that forced a high school basketball player to play collegiate basketball for at least one full season.  The last few seasons have seen many one and dones.  Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, and Derrick Rose are a few players that fell under this category.

In a country where at the age of 18 you are eligible to go to war for your country, and at 16 eligible to get a job, at 18 you aren’t able to play in the NBA?  Brandon Jennings decided to go down a different path, and sign with Lottomatica Roma of the Italian Serie A League.  Coming along with his John Hancock was a $1.65 million net pay guaranteed, as well as a $2 million contract with Under Armour.  As portrayed, there are obviously a lot of reasons that Jennings has to be optimistic about his situation.  He grew up in Compton, and was raised by a single mother.  Not only is he able to support his family now, but playing against professionals is a great platform for his future NBA endeavors.  Saying this, his draft stock could plummet if he doesn’t peform overseas.

The debate over whether or not the NBA age restriction should exist is a tough topic to grasp.  On one hand, there are many high school athletes that come from poverity stricken areas.  Obviously anxious to have money for the first time in their lives, naturally they want to jump start their careers to success.  In the same sense, imagining a family struggling to make ends meet and then instantly becoming set for life is a great situation.  Most eighteen year olds are not physically but more importantly not mentally mature enough to deal with the daily burden that the NBA brings.  Going straight from high school to the NBA is like skiing down a bunny slope and then immediately going down an expert trail.

Who are we to make decisions for an eighteen year old?  A basketball player should have the liberty to choose between the NBA and college.  I love college basketball, and fathoming the idea of going back to the old ways is agitating, but in the same sense it can be justified.  Colleges and universities are supposed to allow people to learn about themselves, and help mature an individual from a teenager to an adult.  This philosophy goes out the window for an athlete that just goes through the motions to reach the next level.  I went to Indiana University and used to have IU basketball players in my classes frequently.  About 90% of the time they were never even there.  If your head is not in the game, what is the point?  Instead of using college as a hangout spot for these future NBA players, let them do what they want.  What does one year in college actually do?  Did Greg Oden and OJ Mayo mature a great deal being in college for one year?  For a big time athlete, college is like being in the NBA without the paychecks, as players are treated like celebrities the entire time they attend the school.  I am glad that kids now have the option to go to Europe instead of going to college.  If the NBA age restriction was lifted, it would not surprise me.  The last thing that commissioner David Stern wants is for Europe to become stomping grounds for the most prominent high school basketball players.


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