The #1 recruit in the country (according to Scout.com & ESPN.com) has decided to forego college and instead, play in Europe. He is the 2008 Naismith Male Player of the Year and Parade Magazine Player of the Year. Brandon Jennings, from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, had intended to attend the University of Arizona for one season before declaring for the 2009 NBA Draft. But, he recently began to hesitate on this commitment. He had yet to receive a qualifying SAT score when he decided to take his talents to Europe instead of attending college. By foregoing college, Jennings will be able to hire an agent, play basketball year-round, sign endorsement deals, and play a significantly higher level of basketball.
Jennings' decision could spark interest in future youngsters at the opportunity to play in Europe rather than one year at the NCAA Division I level. Of course, that interest will depend upon the success or failure of Jennings in the next year. Brandon Jennings is an 18-year-old, 6'2", 165 lb point guard with incredible quickness and athletic ability. The crucial question is, how will he fair in Europe and how will it affect his future?
Jennings is a prototypical NBA point guard. He is known as a pass-first playmaker with good decision making, great ball handling, and excellent court vision. His weaknesses are strength and defense but both are common weaknesses at his age and will improve in time. One of Jennings' biggest dilemmas will be adapting to the European style of game. But the difficulties he endures will end up benefiting him immensely in the future. He will be playing in the most elite European leagues. In the past, the better players from these leagues have gone on to play very well in the NBA (Luis Scola, Juan Carlos Navarro). Unfortunately, the game will not come easy to Jennings. He will struggle with the different philosophies, different rules, and different offenses. Additionally, Jennings will not be playing against small, inferior high school kids anymore but instead, 25-35 year old mature men. If Jennings can learn how to mesh his current style of play with the European game, he will become a versatile and dynamic NBA point guard. Since Jennings could struggle mightily in the beginning, it could somewhat harm his 2009 draft stock. But, if Jennings is willing to accept the short-term risks, he will benefit from far greater rewards in the future.
This past year, 4 out of the top 5 picks in the draft were freshmen; overall, there were 10 freshmen selected in the first round. There will continue to be many freshmen drafted in the first round as long as the NBA continues the recently instituted one-year-rule. The rule requires players to be one year out of high school and at least 19 years of age to enter the draft. The rule has its advantages and disadvantages. As a basketball fan, it is tremendous. The NCAA season and March Madness have been spectacular in recent years with the additions of players such as Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Love. If not for the rule, all would have most likely proceeded directly to the NBA. The same advantages for the fans are advantages for the NCAA and the NBA. The NCAA makes hundreds of millions of dollars off their superstar “student” athletes. The NBA, in turn, benefits from free marketing of their future superstars. The problem is that the players, the main revenue generators, never get to touch any of the money. Freshmen are adults at 18 years old and should have the right to go professional and earn money for their services, right? Well, Jennings is making a push for that stance by signing a contract in Europe next season. He will make a generous amount of money.
Most of the media is knocking Jennings for his decision asserting that he has no idea what he is getting himself into. They say that he will struggle with the language and culture barriers. He will struggle with the tough practices in sometimes less than adequate facilities. The truth is that Jennings is an 18-year-old kid. He is supposed so struggle with these things. He is supposed to grow as a player and a person during this time in his life. If he is only going to be in college for one year anyways, why not go to a place where he can do the most growing up and do it the quickest. Journeying to a different country might be just what an 18-year-old future NBA star needs. In this day and age of spoiled, coddled NBA players, it would be in Jennings' best interest to avoid becoming just another immature, rich brat. The hardships he experiences while overseas will help him appreciate everything he earns once he does arrive in the NBA. When Jennings retires in 20 years as a perennial NBA All-Star, he will look at this decision as the best he ever made. He will be a better player, and more importantly, a better person, because of it.