High Schooler Not Sacrificing Education with Euro Venture

Brandon Jennings decision to skip college in favor of playing professionally in Europe until he becomes eligible for the NBA draft raises many issues and controversial topics. Len Elmore, the superb broadcaster, former All-American player, and lawyer, took a strong stance on why the Jennings decision is wrong on many levels in this week’s Sports Business Journal. However, his argument misses one major premise.

Elmore contends that Jennings fell prey to his so-called advisors, like Sonny Vaccaro, and is undervaluing education by going overseas. Jennings may go on to star in the NBA, making this an afterthought, but Elmore worries about the others who may follow but are not qualified for pro basketball. Without a solid education their future remains in doubt.

Nobody can argue the value of a college education, and even more so the college experience that teaches some of the most important life lessons a young adult will learn. The assumption Elmore makes is that these college athletes who decide to attend college, while pursuing a pro career, don’t take advantage of the system. Elmore seems to agree the “one and done” rule does not work. It simply prolongs the process. Look how many first-year players entered the draft unprepared for the NBA, and fell into the second round or went undrafted. It’s no different than the players who went straight from high school and failed in the league. Most of these one-year players attend minimal classes, schools do their best to kepp the eligible by bending rules at times, and they bail on school once the season ends. Explain how that is any better than playing professionally in Europe.

If anything, at least players earn a check in Europe to help take care of their families. Further, living overseas can potentially open their eyes to a new world, providing a cultural education that college players never receive. Case in point, Freddy Adu, the soccer prodigy, has excelled in Portugal after struggling in the US. Adu is a slightly different story, having grown up under the spotlight and signing a big contract with Nike before playing.

If a new labor agreement can enforce a three-year draft eligibility rule, as Elmore outlines, it will help college basketball and most important, help high school kids become men. One and done is hurting college basketball. It’s turned the college game into free agency. Players still enter the NBA draft unprepared as basketball players and unprepared for life – some, not all. Would three years in school hurt anyone? Perhaps a player’s draft stock would fall or someone would get injured. But if they are not good enough in college, the NBA would weed them out immediately anyway, and many players have shown you can recover from injuries and still make it to the NBA, Brandon Rush and Bill Walker for example.

Anyone that opts for Europe in today’s one and done era is better off, since they don’t value the education and would likely find ways to bypass the classroom anyway. At least they earn money, and are exposed to a new world. Clearly the best option for everyone involved is a rule to change to keep student-athletes in school.

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