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.