That sound you hear is, I fear, the sound of floodgates opening. For a couple of glorious years now college basketball has been, in my mind, significantly better off for the presence of a few spectacularly talented young players – even if they only stayed for a year. The NBA’s change in minimum draft age meant that we got to see guys like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley make the college game their personal playgrounds. That has made the world a better place. Now that might all be threatened thanks to a guy named Brandon Jennings.
Jennings is perhaps the top 18 year old point guard in the country. He first committed to USC, then decommitted and eventually settled on Arizona. But then he ran into academic problems. His first SAT score was too low for admission. His score in the second test was so much improved that the authorities guessed he cheated and he didn’t fight it enthusiastically enough to make us think otherwise. He took the test a third time, but he made the decision I dread before he got the results.
Jennings is going to turn pro and play in Europe next year. It’s frustrating to me because it is a good move for the player. Or at least it isn’t a bad one. Provided he lands on a good team he’ll play against decent competition including several NBA draft picks or future draft picks. He’ll also play against older players, so he will be well seasoned for the toughness and experience he will face when he makes his inevitable jump to the pros in a year. European basketball is so closely scouted now that he will get seen just as often as he would in college, and he may even stick out more if his style of play and athleticism are different than the league norm. In other words, on balance he’ll get an experience not too far removed (on the basketball side if not the lifestyle side) from what he would experience in college, and he’ll make a whole lot of money at the same time.
I can guarantee that there are a bunch of younger players watching this very closely, and even more agents. Going to Europe would allow agents to get their claws into stud players a year earlier, and the open availability of other pro options could allow them to leverage the NBA into better contracts down the road. This one year plan was working way too well to last, so a loophole was inevitable. I just wish it hadn’t been found so soon.