Last month Derrick Caracter was debating what he should do once he graduated from high school in 2006: attend college or enter the NBA draft. Then the NBA made the decision for Caracter, who has been well-known within basketball circles since middle school.
The NBA's labor deal announced two weeks ago will prohibit players from entering the draft until they are 19 years old and a year removed from high school.
"As soon as it passed," Caracter said, "I was really hurt. . . . The option was taken away."
Caracter was among the most highly-regarded teenagers competing Wednesday in Reebok's ABCD Camp, a collection of 200 of the nation's best high school basketball players. Wednesday also was the first day college coaches evaluated players knowing all likely will attend some form of school after high school, even if just for one season.
Many of the top high school players, including the ones who said they had planned to attend college anyway, opposed the age restriction. And several coaches were uncertain about the rule's long-term impact on college basketball.
"I think it makes it easier" to recruit, said Baylor Coach Scott Drew, one of several dozen college head coaches and assistants in attendance Wednesday. "Because now you know they are going to go to college or go to prep school. It has been narrowed down -- you know they are going to school."
The effect on the sport is not that simple, according to Kansas Coach Bill Self, who agreed with Drew but added: "In other ways I think it could be a big negative in that you could have a lot of kids going to school only because they have to -- going to school for the wrong reason. It's got to be a marriage."
Some summer league coaches said players who normally would enter the NBA draft directly out of high school will attend prep school for a year.
O.J. Mayo, a junior from Cincinnati, is one standout who said he will consider all options, including the National Basketball Developmental League and playing overseas for a season, once he graduates from high school next season.
Mayo said when the NBA's new labor deal was announced, he received 30 telephone and text messages from colleges, newspapers and others interested in his next move.
"I've always wanted to go to college, so the decision didn't affect me at all," Mayo said. "But I think it's very unfair."
Reebok executive Sonny Vaccaro, who runs ABCD Camp, said his advice to NBA-caliber players considering staying only one season in college would be to attend prep school for the year instead. Top college programs often don't play freshmen as much as upperclassmen, he said, and a player's draft stock could be adversely affected.
Only a few players at ABCD Camp this year would be eligible to enter the 2006 draft because they have already finished high school and will attend prep school next year. Tyler Smith, an athletic forward from Tennessee who will attend Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) this fall, could be in the NBA as early as 2007, his summer league coach, Mark Komara, said, particularly because the 2006 draft class promises to be watered down without the usual high school entries.
In the past, players who appeared destined for the NBA straight from high school hardly were recruited by college coaches because it was viewed as a waste of time. Not anymore.
Greg Oden, the 7-foot senior from Indianapolis, has orally committed to Ohio State, where he plans to play with teammate and longtime friend Mike Conley Jr. in a star-studded recruiting class. Caracter also said he is considering playing with friend and fellow New Jersey standout Lance Thomas at Rutgers in another package deal.
"The 2006 class is loaded, there are a lot of players that I think could go right out of high school," said Thomas, who is considered a top 30 senior. "The rule is somewhat holding them back, but there is nothing they can do about it, so they should just use it to their benefit."
Arizona Coach Lute Olson issued a statement after the NBA's age minimum was adopted, saying that Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony might be the only example of a player who stayed one year who did not either hurt himself or the program by leaving early. Olson added that the age minimum likely would enhance media speculation each season about whether several players would turn pro.
Self said top-tier programs could become very cyclical, in that, "when they are good they are very good, but then they take big hits" in losing several underclassmen. North Carolina, for example, lost four underclassmen to the NBA draft, all of whom were drafted in the first round, after winning the national title last season.
But Self said he would not have a problem signing any player who would help Kansas win as long as they are in school for the right reasons. And Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said he'd take each situation on a case-by-case basis, pointing to former Yellow Jackets player Chris Bosh, who entered the draft after his freshman season.
"If I had to do it all over again," Hewitt said, "I absolutely would do it."