Because of One-and-Done Rule, Others May Follow Jennings's Path
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- If Brandon Jennings is selected early as expected in Thursday's NBA draft, it will be the endpoint of the new path the wiry guard has blazed to the league. Rather than play college basketball, Jennings became the first American player to graduate from high school and play professionally overseas for a year before entering the draft.
One year after Jennings's decision to play in Italy, there are signs that his success in the draft could trigger a small but significant movement. Jeremy Tyler, a talented forward from San Diego, already has decided to skip his senior year of high school to play overseas, and several others are considering following Jennings's unconventional route to the NBA.
Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe company executive who helped orchestrate Jennings's move, said he has had in-depth discussions with the parents of seven elite players still in high school about playing overseas instead of going to college. Vaccaro said he and his wife plan to visit or host the families of each player in the coming months to have more intensive discussions about the option.
"I think it is going to become a trend," said C.J. Leslie, a highly rated senior from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C. "Talking in general, people are like, 'I am ready to get paid' or 'I am ready to get away.' "
Interviews with nearly two dozen of the nation's top high school players at last week's NBA Top 100 camp at the University of Virginia revealed that, while most remain committed to playing college basketball, several are frustrated with stringent NCAA rules and with the NBA's minimum-age restriction imposed before the 2006 draft.
Because players need to be 19 years old and a year out of high school before entering the NBPA draft, they have had few options other than to attend college for at least a year. They view Jennings as a trailblazer because he chose a creative -- if risky -- route, signing a professional contract instead of adhering to NCAA rules that forbid compensation.
"Brandon is his own entrepreneur," said Tristan Thompson, who is rated among the nation's top five seniors. The chance to play overseas for a year is "attractive for some guys," he added. "Once a teenager hears money, his eyes open."
Vaccaro, who said the parents of all the interested players reached out to him, declined to reveal the names of the seven players considering the overseas route out of respect for his private discussions with their families. "Parents are interested," Vaccaro said in a telephone interview. "This is an alternative. They just need options. They don't like what is happening in college sports. There is never a rule to allow the kid to have options."
Two other moderately talented high school seniors -- Mardracus Wade of Memphis and Justin Martin of Indianapolis -- said they would likely play overseas rather than in college if the opportunity emerged, and if their families allowed it.
"It is legal -- it's not like you are breaking rules," Martin said of playing overseas. "You've got a job."
Jennings averaged only 5.5 points and 2.3 assists in 17 minutes per game in Italy, but said he has no regrets about going overseas.
"I think more kids should do it," said Jennings, who had committed to the University of Arizona before deciding to play overseas, where he earned $1.2 million last season. "I got out. Just the fact that kids can grow up and become a better person, become a man overseas, [that] would be a great thing."