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Brandon Jennings, European Explorer

June 23, 2008

compassTo catch you up: recently, it’s been tossed about that top high school recruit, Brandon Jennings, might skip out of his commitment to the University of Arizona and play in Europe, due to some discrepancy in his scores on his SAT attempts:

“It’s something I’m considering now,” Jennings said. “I still want to go to Arizona but if things don’t go right, I’m considering going overseas.”

Jennings said he will get his standardized test results back next Thursday. This is the third time he has taken a standardized test. Jennings said he was red-flagged for a jump in his score from the first to the second test. He said he didn’t know his scores.

“The first time I took it I didn’t try, the second time I did so I had to take it a third time,” Jennings said.

Arizona assistant coach Mike Dunlap said Friday that the staff was well aware that Jennings was looking into playing overseas.

Overseas? No one does that. Like… not in a college?

Brandon Jennings at Oak HillIn Europia?

Now there is a solid idea – the NBA’s age limit is a restriction on young people to earn a wage out of high school. And while I am sure people would like to think that sending these kids to college is extremely helpful for their lives, it’s more of a revenue generator for the umbrella organization (NCAA) and the school that has a “contract” to the player. That contract is spelled out in favorable terms for the school – they provide education, room, board, coaching, and travel. But do those players value those items equally? From all accounts, many players are there to showcase themselves for professional basketball options. The education value is low on their totem pole.

It’s always interesting to see players hustling to get that qualifying score for their college, by the way. Makes me wonder sometimes what their friends and even AAU coaches are doing – you got to qualify to become a star! Or else you become, well, Lenny Cooke. How bad are those high school grades… or how “good” are they?

(And if he does go to college, will the NCAA give an extra long look at his high school and collegiate transcripts? You know, to see if he is really going to that Golf 101 class? To see if he really passed biology?)

So, Brandon Jennings really might go to Europe to ball? From today’s New York Times:

“I think people just develop better over there,” he said. “You’re playing professional ball for a year, you’re playing against guys who are older than you. I’ll constantly be playing basketball 24-7. I don’t have to worry about school and things like that.”

On the surface, that sounds troubling. In reality, forcing talented players who otherwise would be drafted to spend a sham year in college does not advance higher education. The N.C.A.A., the N.B.A. and the union created a class of hired guns.

“For a person that plays ball, our dream is to get to the N.B.A.,” Jennings said. “College is like, O.K., we’ll do this one year, but our real mind-set is that we’re trying to get to the league, take care of our families. They’re making us do college so we feel like, Let’s do one year, go to class half the time.”

Jennings could play a role in redirecting the pipeline that carries N.B.A.-ready talent from high school to college, in which the best players are forced to mark time for a season. There are not many options.

A player could go to the N.B.A. development league. He would be eligible to play in the league because he is a high school graduate, but he couldn’t be called up to an N.B.A. roster. He would become eligible for the N.B.A. draft the next season.

Jennings will receive his test scores on Thursday. He’ll huddle with his mother, Alice, to determine whether to go to Arizona for the obligatory year or go to Europe to begin his pro career.

What’ll it be: Spain or Paris, or Tucson? Being compensated —half a million to a million Euros, or receiving room, board, tuition and a telephone book of N.C.A.A. regulations?

He would come into the N.B.A. with money and maturity after having lived abroad for a season or two. This is true education, the kind of education an elite college basketball or football player will be hard pressed to receive inside forced study halls, where the primary objective is to stay eligible.

Brandon Jennings flat topHe’ll probably get into Arizona, and this commentary on playing somewhere else might be a smart shot of early media exposure/ spectacle. It don’t matter. I love this. As, of course, does Ball in Europe. There is an issue with the cultural difference. Moreover, the lack of worldliness that many Americans have is likely magnified by playing in the high school basketball bubble, where a top player is surrounded by other top players who know little about the outside world and coaches who obviously focus more on the jump shot than on life skills.

Brandon’s gonna have to take his moms with him. Even then, that is going to be rough. But it would be a bold move to take the risk and take that road less traveled, playing against better competition. And Jennings can feature it on his website/ fan site.

Will he get enough playing time? Is he physically developed to play on the top levels of Euroleague (he is 6′, 165 lbs, a little light), or will he need a couple of years to make his mark? Will people think that the flat-top do is back? Will Paul Shirley meet him and call him a moron in his next book (Which will be okay, it’ll just mean that Shirley’s jealous and bitter)?

But, as Juan Carlos Navarro proves, sometimes the money’s good, or even better than the NBA’s rookie scale. Cash money has a lot more value, at least in the short run, than some fluff classes and a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. Coupled with the better competition, and the fact that most NBA teams scout Europe heavily… go for it, player.


College Fast Break makes note of how some commenters (on the ESPN article) are remarking about how “dumb” he is. The kid is probably not a moron. The problem is the differing scores on the SAT test, one qualifying, one not qualifying.

And for a young man who has not been preparing for the test, answering the questions is more “cram” than it is “knowledge”. Some highly intelligent people have trouble with the test. And without preparation, those folks get some terrible scores.

Moreover, the SAT is not the only measure of intelligence, though those scores are treated as such. The guy is a point guard, which requires different intelligences – spatial reasoning, for one. If he hasn’t been planning on actually graduating college, one could see how the SAT is, frankly, a waste of his damned time.

Good luck to Brandon Jennings and I would love to see this happen. College ball is a farce for many “student”-athletes, and everyone knows it. Players have to realize that there is a world of basketball out there, countries to see.

But if the European coaches start coming to AAU events, they need to remember that most indoor venues are no-smoking.

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  1. June 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm | #1

    Thanks,

    Also nice Paul Shirley reference.

  2. June 25, 2008 at 4:51 pm | #2

    I was thinking about writing a piece very similar to this one. Definitely not as well written, of course. But I even thought about the Navarro tie-in.

    Comment about Jennings’ SAT score though. He admittedly says that he didn’t try in the first one and he bombed it. He man-upped the second time and got a better score through effort.

    Some people think that sounds fishy. “Why wouldn’t you try on a standardized test?” Hmmm… Don’t know about you but I certainly didn’t. In fact, I knew people that wrote Weezer or Tupac lyrics for their essays (Illinois had supplemental tests for funding with essays).

    I certainly didn’t try when I took them. However, I got a high score simply because the high school I attended allowed me to acclimate myself into the environment that the SAT is written for. So, I don’t think it’s crazy that a high school senior would consciously disengage himself while taking a test. It seems like some people forget that this kid is probably just like any other kid that lives down the block.

    Plus, I can’t palm a ball.

  3. June 25, 2008 at 8:58 pm | #3

    Half of that comment sounds really arrogant. My bad.

  4. picodulce
    June 26, 2008 at 5:20 pm | #4

    FITP: Ha! I got to this post first!

    Re: your comment – I don’t think it sounds arrogant, but then again, I did the same damned thing (kinda) with my SATs. My high school was much the same as yours, and we were really competitive. I got smoked on the PSATs and didn’t try (I wrote Vanilla Ice and Hammer lyrics to essays if I didn’t have answers early in HS myself). And I took my SATs in a poorer performing school; I spoke to some people and asked them about their answers and I realized that if your schooling doesn’t prep you for the test, you can put down some ridiculous answers. And in math? Lots of HS students are incredibly confused.

    But this kid doesn’t live down the block of a lot of people who comment on sports blogs; two different populations, but I don’t think people really realize that!

    Thanks for your comment, that’s how I feel.

  5. June 27, 2008 at 2:12 pm | #5

    last year I bet on Koufos being the first to skip college for a year in Europe

    anyway, athletes have a lower required SAT score than the general populace, I don’t know what people are crying about

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