It was around this time last year I sat in a bar discussing what I thought would be the next revolution in professional basketball. After watching Brandon Jennings light-up Milwaukee it seemed natural for top-tier high school athletes to follow his path to the NBA, forgoing the traditional, maybe archaic, leap to college for the money and professional experience Europe could provide.
While Jennings’ Italian foray was purely self-serving, a way to usurp the NBA’s requirement for rookies to be a year removed from high school and still get paid, that doesn’t make it any less revolutionary. Money is always the root of revolution. NCAA basketball is one of only two revenue generating sports in college, along with football, and the money the two sports bring in funnels back into the college programs, a point that, by itself, would be noble if not for the fact that corporations suck out every penny they can in the name of college pride. Hell, the NCAA’s “Senior Class Award,” awarded for outstanding character in senior athletes is even sponsored (brought to you by your local Lowe’s hardware store), but we cry foul when Cam Newton allegedly wants to cash in on even the smallest amount or whenever an argument is to be made about paying college athletes.
In a recent interview on HoopsHype Brandon Jennings said if their were a lockout in 2011 he would attempt to return to Europe where, after not making the grades to enroll in college, he played for a year before being drafted by the Bucks. After early success began to define his rookie season the question arose as to whether more high school seniors should follow his lead. Europe, unlike college, allows players a true professional experience where locker rooms are dominated by veteran players, not coaches. The ego padding disgrace that is college recruiting could be replace by the harsh reality of international basketball, a style far different from what is taught in the AAU and high school systems, essentially creating a humbling classroom for young stars to learn how to work within a professional system.
Alas, Jennings may have been ahead of his time, seeing as only one player, Jeremy Tyler, followed his lead. Tyler left the States after finishing his junior year of high school to play in Israel at the age of seventeen, the age most European stars begin their professional careers. Tyler struggled mightily in Israel, averaging an anemic 2.1 ppg, and quit after only ten games, now playing out the last year before he can enter the NBA draft for a team in Japan’s professional league. So Jeremy Tyler is now mocked for going against the system, and failing, and what could have been a revolution lays dormant, mistaken as merely a trend. But what happens if upon entering the NBA next year, supposing there is no lockout, Tyler dominates the rookie field? Could NBA success for Jeremy Tyler prove the struggles he and Jennings went through internationally are a better means to the NBA ends than college?