Apr 26, 2009

All Money Ain't Good Money

Brandon "It Could Be Worst" Jennings

Ignorance seems to be spreading like the swine flu these days. First there was basketball player Brandon Jennings who decided to bypass playing college ball last season so as to play for a professional team in Rome, while awaiting the NBA draft this year. Jennings made an ass of himself when he declared to Bryant Gumbel on a recent Real Sports episode that in spite of his struggles as a professional basketball player in Rome this year that it could indeed be worst. According to Jennings worst translated to "I could be in college...I could be in class right now." If that wasn't bad enough, the news that former San Diego high school player Jeremy Tyler is dropping out of school to play in Europe next year demonstrates that the blind is leading the blind in this disturbing trend.

Had Brandon Jennings been able to pass the SAT in 2008 perhaps he would have been one of the stars of this year's NCAA tournament? Perhaps he wouldn't be suffering a death of insignificance over in Rome right now? While some have mistakenly labeled Jennings' move to Europe as "revolutionary" it is important to point out that Jennings was prompted to go and play in Europe only after his failure to achieve a satisfactory score on the SAT. How revolutionary is that? Maybe saving face might be a better way to describe what Jennings has done?

I realize that Jennings is making a nice seven figure salary playing for Lottomatica Virtus Roma right now. I also understand that Jennings is being touted as a potential lottery pick in this June's NBA draft. Nonetheless, I still think that Jennings decision is short-sighted and potentially a dangerous precedent should other young players like Tyler continue to follow this lead.

Of course the debate over young basketball players and the choices they make in route to a potential NBA career is a debate that has been going on for some time now. When Kevin Garnett decided to make the jump from high school directly to the NBA in 1995, he was the first high school player to do so since guys like Moses Malone, Chocolate Thunder, and Bill Willoughby had pursued this path back in the 1970s. The year after KG made the jump, Kobe Bryant followed his footsteps and before you knew it a slew of high schoolers were increasingly doing the same thing in subsequent years. Though KG and Kobe were quite successful--with last year's NBA Finals between their respective teams demonstrating the apex of what we might call the NBA's "high school era"--the league was eventually overrun with so many immature players that there came a need for a rule change. Beginning with the 2007 draft, players had to be 19 years old and a year out of high school before making the move to the NBA. It is this rule that players like Jennings and Tyler are now attempting to circumvent.

Some see this as a money issue and argue that players should be able to ply their trade in spite of their age if someone is willing to pay them to do so. Others add race to the equation and suggest that the age limit is really a racially motivated ploy to deny young black men, who make up the majority of the NBA, an opportunity to begin accumulating their potential riches. Still others sense a conspiracy on the part of the NCAA and their lucrative March Madness tournament which, the critics say, make tons of money off of the talents of the college players, who in turn, get none of the spoils. Yet, all of these arguments are seriously lacking in terms of both substance and foresight.

The point being missed here is that someone needs to concentrate on developing the person, as well as the player, as opposed to simply developing a kid's basketball skills. Not only do these young players need to perfect their jump shots and learn how to better defend the pick and roll, but what they often need, more than anything, is a sense of maturity. You don't make someone mature simply by putting a lot of money in their pockets. Maturity comes with age and life experience, and this is something that you cannot accelerate. In other words, you can't put 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound bag.

I know, better than most, that a large percentage of these players aren't ever going to excel in college. I also know that a year of college is better than none. College ain't never hurt nobody. In an ideal world all these players would be seriously pursuing their degrees, but that's not realistic. Exceptional athletes are often pulled out of the normal scholastic environment at an early age. They are socialized to be athletes, not students, so when its time to be a student they often struggle because they've never been taught how to be one in the same way that they have been socialized to be an athlete. This is a result of the system that exists, though most people simply blame the players.

I don't expect a talented kid to fully understand the way that adults are manipulating him for their own gains. I do however hold the system itself responsible; including the player's family members in many instances. Often it's the families, who see these athletes as their own meal ticket, deserving of blame. I know that it has become a cliche to hear an athlete talk about the house that they are going to buy for Mom Dukes when they get rich, but I have news for you, it's not the kid's job to buy a house for the parent. That's the parent's responsibility. If family members and other invested parties would stop forcing these kids to "walk the track," as they say in the pimp game, then a lot of this rush to cash in would stop.

All I'm saying is this, if we started focusing more on developing these ball players holistically, helping them grow into mature adults, as opposed to only developing them to play ball then maybe the ones who do make it to the league and make some money can actually keep what they make. This is a long term project than goes against the short term allure of trying to cash in as though you were at a casino. This all starts at home though, long before any of the shoe companies, street agents, AAU coaches or any of the other elements of the system itself even come into the equation.

As ignorant as Brandon Jennings might sound, his decision and that of Jason Tyler are more reflective of the way that they were raised and the people who raised them. If your parents and those who are supposed to don't give you any guidance where are you supposed to get it from? So in the absence of any real guidance one is left to pursue the dollar like a dope fiend pursues another hit. In the long run, this can't be good. Slow down, pump your breaks, if the player is good enough, the money will be there. Don't chase the money, let the money chase you! Otherwise, though there will always be exceptions, the reality is that an immature fool and his money will soon depart.


Anonymous said...

Doc, once again your thoughts are remarkable! I have the title for your next book. "RUSH CASH"

Mad Respect

Anonymous said...

Always Right!

PPpicks1 said...

You are simply the best! Every word is true.

Anonymous said...

Now thats real game, Chuuch!

Michael C. said...

Why don't you leave someone who can support themselves alone. There are millions out there who had outstanding SAT scores and are jobless right now. This may be a bad example for the future, but if you can make money for you and your family right now, how could you turn that down?

idaho vandal said...

This isn't just a problem developing high school kids into respectable adults, I meet many college juniors and seniors who are not evan close to being productive members of society.

palmbeach4sale@gmail.com said...

Granted, everyone's situation is different. However, its a dangerous thing when you mix an uneducated mind with finances. Mike Tyson is the perfect example. Don King and associates took him on a ride..giving him money, women and fame, with no education offered! The fact remains, if one is talented at 17, then he or she is likely to even better, more knowledgeable, of their skill or craft with time. It's sad, that the white guy negotiating to send these kids to Europe are just like the white folks who own and race horses. They don't give a damn, just in it for the money. This old white dude needs to hold his head in shame...This kid needs to stay in America, practice, study and prepare himself for greatness...This white dude wants a horse he can race...this young man should run, run, run from this old dude! This is why he does'nt want a MATURE MIND...He can only capitalize on a young, uneducated mind...where are the parents and educators in the local commnuity to guide this child? Heaven help us all! and yes AMERICA, LEBRON IS THE ACCEPTION!

Hersey said...

Love your work Doc, didn't know you had a blog until today when I saw you on OTL. I have a different view on Jennings. As a basketball fan and former UA student I've followed the Jennings story for a while. Jennings did pass the SAT. His 2nd test result was flagged and even his third was delayed which according to reports frustrated him and opened the door to Europe.

Rooting for Jennings to succeed isn't an assault on education. His path is different and intriguing. It would make Jennings no different than European/Latin American players who've been in developmental and professional leagues since their teens. He's gotten to live in Rome with his mother and brother and has been challenged to develop in a way he likely wouldn't have experienced in college basketball.

I appreciate the fact you went after Sonny Vaccaro, who's vitriol toward the NCAA makes him a little suspect as an unpaid advisor to these kids. But the NCAA is exploitive and 'one and done' players usually only go to class for one semester. I don't see Jennings as a villain when he's getting paid to ply his craft, learning from pros in his field and doesn't have the additional stress of pretending to be a student for four months. While I understand you're concerned about the precedent, let's not forget a lot of these kids wouldn't even get a whiff of schools like Arizona or USC without their athletics skill.

Anonymous said...

You'd be much more impressive, if you would at least do the neccesary research to get the players name right.

Rodney J. Woodruff said...

I saw the outside the lines conversation this morning. I am not writing to defend the 'Euro Pimp' Sonny Vaccaro but when he said '... Let's get away from this mature stuff'. I believe that there was an out of context moment there. He was saying that we shouldn't make this an argument about maturity as it isn't the only issue.

Regrettably, in this regard, Mr. Vaccaro has a point. We all know many people who have gone through four years at grande universities and have not come out as productive members of society; George Bush would be an example. So, I do believe that the discussion of maturity is not necessary for the discussion of young Tyler.

The idea that he would drop out of high school to pursue this route is the ridiculous portion of the story. We have seen it a million times, you need at least a high school diploma to secure most jobs these days. The presumption that he won't get hurt and therefore will be able to fully capitalize is ridiculous. Should he get hurt, the options for him will be very little. The road to a college degree could jump from 3.5 years to 12 given that he would have to secure a GED, Junior College and then a Four year college while working for a soon to be elevated minimum wage (in Obama's plan). The real story here is common sense and the stupidity of the shepherds.

We should not presume that young tyler would somehow be ready for the world after college. What we should presume, however, is that those people responsible for shepherding him into adulthood would realize that he is just a 'dumb' kid and that they would be 'mature' enough to guide him through this phase of life and prepare him for the next. I think that they will be really surprised when Tyler doesn't make that big NBA splash that they thought because he fails some intelligence test or gets hurt overseas.

Regrettably, at that point in his life, high school and college will seem, to tyler, like a much more monumental task than going overseas to play ball and as such he will be that 6'11 grocery bagger at the piggly wink who had so much potential. Indeed, yet another potential sad story in the making.

The R.B.G. said...

"The point being missed here is that someone needs to concentrate on developing the person, as well as the player, as opposed to simply developing a kid's basketball skills. Not only do these young players need to perfect their jump shots and learn how to better defend the pick and roll, but what they often need, more than anything, is a sense of maturity. You don't make someone mature simply by putting a lot of money in their pockets. Maturity comes with age and life experience, and this is something that you cannot accelerate. In other words, you can't put 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound bag."

Can't you gain age and life experience living abroad in Europe? If I grow up in NYC, go to Pace University, and get a job in Manhattan haven't I missed out on certain things? There are a lot of ways to gain life experience and maturity, college isn't the only way. As a current MBA student, I tout the merits of education (specifically higher education) all the time, but I understand that it's not for everyone.

You seem to suggest that if their careers don't pan out these kids are dead. Instead consider these are young men who have the time to chase their dream AND go back to school if they wish.

Besides, you think 90% of these college coaches care about the development of their players as men AT THE EXPENSE OF WINS? Hell no. There is no 'right' way to do it. College is an option, Europe is an option.


Anonymous said...

What you did not mention is the fraud being perpetrated by some American colleges and universities. The "one and done" ball players make a mockery of American Higher Education.

USC's OJ Mayo, Memphis' Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose to name a few were not "real" students but just served time until they were eligible to join the NBA.

International players such as the Gasols. Nowitski,and Yao didn't have to jump through this hoop to become professionals.

It is time to come up with a more sensible approach to the problem. Years ago the Kansas City Royals developed an an academy for potential major league baseball players . There are golf and tennis academies for the wealth.

Perhaps the NBA could fund institutes for potential players that provided educational and athletic instruction.

What we have now is fraudulent.

Anonymous said...

Your comments represent a voice of reason in a Universe of complete stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Saw you on "Outside the Lines" today and agreed with you 1000%! Thanks for representing your point of view with tact and clarity!!

A. Jarrell Hayes said...

I'm disappointed that he dropped out of high school, but he is pursuing his dreams. I agree that a year of school doesn't hurt anybody (though 2 made me a little jaded), but college isn't for everybody, unfortunately. I rather have kids go overseas and play than take up valuable scholarship money to play a game when they have no intention of matriculating. The three major sports have gotten so big and lucrative that it is unreasonable to use colleges as minor leagues; the NBA, MLB, and NFL should find a way to create a system where the kids aren't taking up class space and campus space and scholarship money just to satisfy an age requirement. I hope the player decides to finish up at least high school wherever he lands.

A. Jarrell Hayes said...

Oh, I forgot to mention this: just because a player doesn't go to college or finish school doesn't mean they won't down the line. Michael Jordan and Ray Lewis (NFL), just to name a couple, left school early to play pro ball, but eventually returned to finished their degrees later on in life. A sports career is a very short span of time, most athletes are lucky to play 10 years of pro ball. He can always get his education; the GED and college aren't going anywhere anytime soon.