Everyone loves a feel-good story (or do they?).
Meet Brandon Jennings, a Compton, Calif. product with mind-boggling talent and ability on a basketball court. He was a standout at Dominguez High School for two years before transferring to prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia for his final two high school seasons.
At that point, you might not have heard of him, but you would soon. In his senior season at Oak Hill, the 6'1" lefty point guard averaged 35.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game while garnering the 2008 Naismith High School Basketball Player of the Year award, 2007-08 Gatorade Player of the Year—Virginia, 2008 Parade Magazine Player of the Year, and 2008 EA Sports Player of the Year. In addition, he led his 2006-07 team to a 41-1 record and a No. 1 ranking in the USA Today Super 25 national rankings.
He had originally committed to USC, but switched to Arizona, citing the opportunity to play alongside Jerrod Bayless (now in NBA) and the school's top-notch academics. The latter is perplexing, considering he later bypassed college to play professional basketball, stating "I can go to college anytime."
What? I thought the NBA made kids go to college for one year.
If you thought that, you would be correct; however, Brandon forever entrenched himself in basketball history for being the first player to go from a US High School to a European professional basketball league.
He signed a "three-year, multi-million dollar deal" with Lottomatica Roma of the Italian League. In addition to the basketball deal (which includes buyout clauses so Jennings can enter the NBA draft next year), he signed a $2 million endorsement deal with Under Armour.
Prep phenoms and surely NCAA and NBA officials are quite interested to see how things work out for Brandon. I don't want to suggest that they want to see him fail, but it wouldn't be good for either league if a mass exodus to Europe started happening.
For every Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Shawn Kemp, there are guys like Korleone Young, Darius Miles, Shaun Livingston, Kwame Brown, Eddie Curry, Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Ousmane Cisse, Gerald Green, etc.
The general consensus is that high-schoolers are by-and-large too physically underdeveloped to play in the NBA and therefore should go to college to develop for at least one year before coming to the league.
That alone isn't a bad premise, but many players like Jennings who are coming from humble beginnings see the NBA not just as a place to play ball, but a road to financial freedom. The rule can be counter-productive if something were to happen to them that prevented them from getting to the NBA, such as an injury or wash out.
It's a difficult situation that I am actually on the fence about because I understand the viewpoints of all parties involved. But I do believe that, in some kids cases, they are more than ready for the NBA at 18 (most notably LeBron).
So, whether Jennings intended to be a pioneer or not, a ton of people are tuning in to see how he does.
So far, the results have been less than impressive.
Through seven games in Italian League play, he is only averaging 4.9 points, 3.0 assists, and 1.3 steals in 17.3 minutes while averaging 9.4 points, 1.4 assists, and 0.8 steals in 18.0 minutes and five games of EuroLeague play.
His highest scoring game is 14 and highest assist total is seven. I know it's early (there are 65 games), but he isn't off to the best start or getting significant minutes, which tells me that his coach obviously doesn't think he's ready to handle the rigors just yet.
So, will Jennings be a complete bust, will he be a journeyman, a solid player, or a superstar? It's too early to tell, but one thing seems apparent.
It's just as well he couldn't go right to the NBA.
The only argument now is whether he'd be better off in college right now, instead of seeing limited minutes in a professional league while earning a few million bucks.
I personally think it's great that the young man is able to make such a good living playing basketball. I wish I could do that, but I would hate to see him go the way of the bust if it could've been prevented with some collegiate coaching, strength and conditioning, and player development.
This is a polarizing issue for sure, but I'd like to see my reader's comments on the issue.
Do you think it was the right decision?
Should the NBA force kids to go to school?
Is it good for college basketball to have a bunch of one-and-done guys?