July 17, 2008

The Most Important Development In College Hoops In Years

If this heading sounds like hyperbole, well, it's not. I'm talking of course about the decision of top point guard recruit Brandon Jennings, originally committed to the Arizona Wildcats, to waive his college scholarship and play a year abroad in Italy, for Pallacanestro Virtus Roma, based in Rome. Jennings, barring injury, surely would've been a one-and-done player, since he was one of, if not THE top high school recruit in the nation in the class of '08, and presumably will only stay a year in Europe before declaring for the draft.

While some may laud Jennings' decision to bypass the formality of one year in college during which he will lead a much different lifestyle than your average college student (Jennings himself admitted he has little intention of taking his classes seriously if he were to go to Arizona) and disregard the academic portion of college life just like dozens of top recruits do every year before jumping for the NBA. While I certainly won't attempt to defend the academic commitment of one-and-done players, I will say that I'm terrified, as a college hoops fan attending a leading basketball school (you'll find out just which colors I bleed later on when I do a season preview), for the state of the college game following Jennings' decision to play overseas. Rather than ply their trade in college for a required year before jumping ship to the NBA, top players won't come at all. Looking at the tremendous impact stud freshmen like Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in '06-'07 and Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love last season had on the game in one year, it's safe to say that NCAA hoops will be left with a bit of a drop-off in top-shelf talent. If more of these presumed one-and-done players follow Jennings' example and ditch college for a contract in Europe, college basketball will be missing many of the big names with big talent that have shaped the game since the new age limit was imposed in 2005.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that one man who influenced Jennings' decision was none other than Sonny Vaccaro, the sports marketing genius (or villain, depending on your standpoint) responsible for the proliferation of big-time basketball camps like the adidas ABCD Camp which showcase top high school talent each year. Some, including myself, blame Sonny for the loss of the true spirit of basketball through the expansion of the idea that exposure and self-marketing are more important than talent and skills. Basketball prospects are targeted at younger and younger ages as they disregard their grades and education to shoot for the near-impossible dream of future NBA stardom and big bucks, promised by AAU coaches, marketing execs, and agents alike.

Despite my (partially selfish given my rooting interest in college hoops) negative reaction to this, I'm curious to see how the European experiment pans out for Jennings. Will he be able to overcome obstacles like the language barrier and transition to a different culture? Will the choice of he and future stud high school players to go abroad help to increase the talent level of the European leagues like the one-and-done rule has for the college game? Will working in a different league and sharpening his skills full-time make Jennings a better player than he would be were he to play at Arizona under Lute Olson (who I've heard isn't much of a skills coach) for a year?

Another thing I've wondered is, could the departure of Jennings and other recruits like him for Europe actually help restore some of the purity to the college game? After all, if one-and-done players elect to play in Europe (unless the NBA somehow bans this practice) rather than in college, doesn't that free up scholarship spots for serious students who intend to help a team for several years and thereby change the way leading coaches recruit players? I suppose only time will answer all these questions, but I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how things turn out for young Mr. Jennings.

P.S. - Jason Whitlock has written a very good article on Brandon Jennings, defending Jennings' decision. He also has a video interview with Jennings himself. (I know my past couple posts have featured FOXSports links, but I just want to assure my reader(s) (Hi Mom!) that they're not paying me). HT- The Big Lead

1 comment:

Coop said...

I definitely think this was the best possible decision for Brandon Jennings. I agree with everything Whitlock said in his article but I wonder how Jennings decision will effect others' future decisions after high school graduation.

If he starts a trend I definitely think it could hurt college basketball (from an overall skill standpoint).