Teen Chooses Overseas Path To NBA Goal

By Zach Berman and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In a move that could reshape the way premier high school basketball players approach the NBA's age requirement, former Oak Hill Academy standout Brandon Jennings has decided to play overseas this season, rather than for the University of Arizona. Jennings confirmed his intentions in a text message to ESPN.com last night.

Jennings, a top-rated point guard from Los Angeles who starred at the Mouth of Wilson, Va., school, was awaiting the score of his third attempt at the SAT exam, which was supposed to become available last Saturday but was postponed a week. In a phone interview with The Post on Monday, Jennings's attorney, Jeffrey Valle, said the player had received no official offers from any European teams but that there had been "an expression of interest."

Apparently, the level of interest was great enough for Jennings to surrender his amateur status and embark on a foray no American basketball player his age has ever attempted. Valle told ESPN.com that Jennings and his family likely will sign with an agent to help negotiate a contract with a professional European team.

This move will transplant Jennings an ocean away from any notion of a familiar environment. The language and lifestyle all will be drastically different, no matter which country the point guard ends up in. He also will face stiffer competition than he has encountered so far in his career.

And the way Jennings handles the next year of his life -- on and off the court -- could determine whether others follow in his footsteps.

According to Bill Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, a successful performance by Jennings in Europe -- coupled with the increased competition level in European leagues and the growing strength of the euro in relation to the U.S. dollar -- would inspire more young players to take the same route.

What it would not do is provide an impetus for change in the NBA's age requirement, which demands that players wait a year after their high school graduation before entering the league. Hunter said the rule has nothing to do with a player's skill or maturity level. "It's about money," he said. "It's about limiting the amount of money a kid can earn in his life as a basketball player."

The NCAA was thought to be the only way station available to players intent on entering the NBA as soon as possible, but that line of thinking may soon change. In a phone interview yesterday, Brand made it clear that while NCAA will be affected by Jennings's decision, it had no role in how this matter played out.

"Before the rule took effect and we had some young men jump from high school to the pros, we had a successful game and March Madness pulled in millions of dollars," Brand said. "After the rule, we've had some success and March Madness has pulled in millions of dollars. Either way for us is fine. It's up to the young man."

Now that Jennings has made his decision, the eyes of many of his peers will be upon him. Lance Stephenson, rated the No. 1 small forward in the Class of 2009 by Scout.com, said he plans to attend college regardless of how Jennings fares in Europe. He acknowledged, however, that Jennings's move could develop quickly into a trend.

"A lot of people, it's hard to get into college; the SAT is hard for them," Stephenson said. "I think a lot of players will see if Brandon Jennings do it and see if it work and then everybody will start to do it."

Since the NBA enacted the age requirement, no player has attempted to bypass the system.

However, according to Guy Zucker, an agent who represents Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha as well as other international players in the United States and abroad, the rule was vulnerable from its inception. "It's very dangerous to legislate something that excludes everyone," he said. "The greatest talents are always the ones who break the rules because they are so special."

Although several agents contacted for this story did not deny Jennings's talent, many of them warned of the obstacles that will arise -- both socially and competitively.

John Ebeling, an agent based in Italy, said he was not sure if Jennings could adapt quickly to playing against seasoned professionals from around the world. Ebeling said Jennings was better suited to remain in the United States and play for Arizona.

"Whoever is guiding him is making a mistake," Ebeling wrote in an e-mail. "I don't know his full situation or financial situation, but he should try to hold off on the European adventure for nine months."

After not earning a qualifying mark on his first SAT exam and having the results of his second attempt -- which were good enough to qualify -- flagged because of a dramatic point increase, Jennings took the test a third time. The results of the final try will not be known for a few more days.

"We're disappointed in terms of Brandon's decision, but we want to wish him the best of luck," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said in a statement to the Associated Press. "We hope that things turn out well for him in the future."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company