By David J. Cohen
A few years ago NBA Commissioner David Stern and NCAA President Myles Brand came together and established the one year rule, which states that an incoming NBA player must be out of high school for at least one year prior to the draft. The rule was stated as a move to lead high school players into college to help them mature and get an education. In reality it was a financially driven move by both sides. NBA owners could see these anointed high school prodigies for at least a year in college to help weed out the busts. Meanwhile big conference college programs could essentially rent these players out for at least a season and reap huge profits and program notoriety. It was a win-win situation and there has been talk of expanding the rule to two years out of college.
Proponents of the program claim the rule is a safeguard for high school seniors who are edged on by their peers to go straight to the NBA but aren’t ready or at least good enough to get drafted in the first round. Others say that it’s the right of these players to jump ship if they feel like it. Some of today’s best young players made the transition straight from high school with immediate success: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Amare Stoudemire. All of these players were physically ready to enter the league, and that is the main difference between modern high school prep stars and the ones in the days of Kobe and KG. Greg Oden was physically able to play in the NBA out of high school. Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo could’ve been playing in the league for a year now and their success or struggle would have nothing to do with their physicality. In the last high school draft classes even the high school players that misjudged their decision ended up having more success then failure.
Here is the last high school draft class (2005):
Martell Webster, 6 th overall
Andrew Bynum, 11 th overall
Gerald Green, 18 th overall
CJ Miles, 34 th overall
Monta Ellis, 40 th overall
Just three years later all but one of these players has made their mark on a team. Webster is starting to emerge as another scorer in Portland. Bynum has developed into one of the leagues most promising young centers. Ellis is one of the league’s most electrifying players. Miles has turned into a defensive force and would get a lot more playing time if not for the great depth in Utah. Green is the only one that hasn’t truly panned out because he is still mentally a kid, but he did dunk while blowing out a cupcake and no one else can say that. An 80% success rate is pretty good and is easily competitive with players drafted from overseas. A lot of high school players have to mature into their bodies before making it in the NBA but so do many European players. But those from across the Atlantic and beyond get paid for their development while American kids aren’t enjoying the same ability to make a living from their best talent.
The argument that the rule is protecting players isn’t true. It is just delaying the inevitable. College players are still very young in age and there is a good batch of them that make the mistake of coming out early each year. The draft a couple of days ago had no high school players but Davon Jefferson and DeAndre Jordan can tell you they made a mistake by coming out early. There are a handful of players who make a bad decision for every Chase Budinger that stays in college.
So what am I getting at? A week ago Brandon Jennings, the second ranked PG prospect in the country, finally became the voice of reason and said it like it is. He said he has absolutely no interest in going to Arizona to get an education. He basically said he’s going there because he has to. That is how many of these players ultimately feel. Could you imagine someone telling LeBron at 6’8”, 245 pounds of chiseled muscle at his graduation that he wasn’t ready for the NBA? I didn’t think so. Jennings feels he is basically in limbo, waiting to get into the NBA.
Now Jennings sees a way out. He is the first high school star to seriously consider going to Europe and capitalizing on the same development the European players enjoy. If he goes he is expected to earn the American equivalent of $200,000 - $500,000 for the year. Considering that in the States he can only make a couple grand according to NCAA rules if he has a job, no proceeds from his jersey sales and marketing go to him, and the fact that he won’t get a degree, Europe seems like the logical choice. On top of that he would play against weaker competition then in big time college basketball, making it easier for him to dominate and preserve his high draft stock. Going to Europe involves less risk with more reward. In all honesty I’m surprised it’s taken this long for someone to wake up and consider the opportunity. And considering the growing pool of international players in the NBA the trip overseas is a good learning experience.
If Jennings goes through with this and plays well in Europe he will be a top 5 pick in next year’s draft and have some money to his credit in the process. This will inevitably start a chain reaction of players heading overseas instead of big time college programs. They would circumvent the intent of the rule by losing valuable scouting information and essentially losing these players for a season to European leagues. College basketball would revert to what it was a few years ago and would thus have no incentive to hold on to the rule. And there’s nothing the NBA can do about it.
Ultimately if Jennings makes the right personal decision it will signal the end of this rule. The pretense of allowing these young kids to get an education will be thrown out the window. In the end it’s a money game and if the NBA is going to lose the revenue these players can bring in for a season to European leagues Commissioner Stern won’t stand for it. Unless Myles Brand and the NCAA actually start sharing the mega-millions of dollars with the basketball players raking it in, the one year deal is officially on life support. And as the BCS debacle has shown us, college presidents don’t like to give up money for any reason.
The NBA is not the NFL. Players can come into the league at 18 years of age and contribute to a team. Brandon Jennings is playing the Maurice Clarett role of trying to break down an age rule. Clarett never had a chance because the NFL truly is a monopoly in its field and because common sense says you have to be a certain age before grown men start trying to smash your head off. But even in Clarett’s efforts there was a possible exception to the rule. Along with Clarett there were six high school football players who tried to get into the NFL. One of them was Adrian Peterson. Looking back at his freshman year at Oklahoma and what he did as a NFL rookie perhaps he was ready.
In the case of the NBA there is competition from leagues overseas both in their basketball and in their currency. The US Dollar is weakening with every record setting day for oil prices and inflation continues to rise. International players eligible for the NBA are now signing long term deals in Europe more often and are ultimately passing on playing in the NBA for better money in Euros overseas. And for the first time ever an international player that proved himself in the NBA and would’ve netted a sizable contract chose to play overseas instead. Juan Carlos Navarro was a promising SG for the Grizzlies and could’ve made somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million for a new contract but instead chose to go back to Spain. If Jennings goes to a major European powerhouse like CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos, Partizan, or Maccabi Tel Aviv and helps them win a Euroleague or country championship it will start a bidding war for high school basketball standouts. As far as the NBA and NCAA are concerned that would be the nail in the coffin. And since this is America and Jennings has freedom of choice like every other American, this one year rule might as well rest in peace.