Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson thought he had his next great guard to groom at Point Guard U. Jennings was the most highly touted incoming freshman guard in the school’s proud history. He would surely follow in the footsteps of Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Damon Stoudamire, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Gardner, and most recently Jerryd Bayless.
Unfortunately for Wildcat fans, Jennings decided, with perhaps too much input, that playing overseas for a team in Italy would better prepare him for the NBA than for a Hall of Fame coach known for doing just that. The self-proclaimed “Young Money” made a decision, and right or wrong he must now stick to it.
Only time will tell if Jennings’ controversial Euro trip will be successful and perhaps start a trend, but he has already succeeded in pointing out the many flaws of the NBA’s age-restriction policy. If Jennings is successful, rather than steering high school phenoms towards college with his age-restriction policy, David Stern may instead be sending America’s best young talent abroad.
Stern’s motives for his minimum age limit are noble: He yearns to put a better product on the floor, with professional-ready talent rather than immature, 18-year old busts.
However, some 18-year olds are anything but immature and closer to Michael Jordan than Sam Bowie: Kevin Garnett. Kobe Bryant. Tracy McGrady. LeBron James. Amare Stoudemire. Dwight Howard. These players are the faces of the league, and are doing just fine for themselves without college, thank you very much.\
While it is true that for every Kobe there are five no-names who didn’t make it, room must be made to allow for those who are able to shine.
With no rule in place preventing him from entering the NBA Draft, Jennings would have declared and possibly been a high lottery pick. This was not the case, however, and Jennings, rather than go to college and learn from one of the greatest coaches of all time, instead chose to go to Europe for a year. Without the substantial financial considerations, Jennings would have stayed stateside and played for Olson, but the money was too much.
But can you blame the kid?
Here’s an 18-year-old kid with almost no money his entire life being offered to play basketball in one of the most beautiful places on Earth for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a possible shoe deal! Anyone would have had a hard time saying no to that at 18.
College has been the time of my life and prepared me for the rest of it, however it is not for everyone. Kids go to college not in thirst of great knowledge but rather, for the most part, to get paid. You go to class not because you’re interested in every one, but because you know that degree at the end of the road will hopefully lead you towards a high-paying job.
But what if you already have the skills at 18 to make millions? Why go to college? Because Daddy David Stern said so, that’s why.
The Greg Odens, Kevin Durants, Michael Beasleys, and Derrick Roses of the world have been amazing for the college game, but if Jennings’ innovative decision becomes successful, the next generation of these players may also be playing for Pallacanestro, Virtus Roma, or Olympiakos, rather than Arizona or UCLA.
Jennings is not to blame for choosing hundreds of thousands of dollars and a chance to play basketball in Italy. He can and undoubtedly will enter next year’s draft and realize his dream of playing professional (not collegiate) basketball. Any system that forces a kid to make a decision after his dream is delayed is the real culprit.
While the Arizona Wildcats will suffer because of Jennings’ late decision, the college game as a whole will suffer tenfold if Jennings’ newfound path becomes the next trend.