Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings has made the choice to play in Europe until he becomes draft eligible. In the eyes of many, the ‘Young Money’ tattoo across his shoulders shows his greed is greater than his love of the game. Few people are able to see that perhaps Brand Jennings is displaying a trait we long for our stars to have: honesty. Jennings committed to Arizona, but had zero intention of getting a degree, so why endure the charade? Will Brandon Jennings one day be mentioned in the same breath with Curt Flood? It may not be as crazy as it sounds.
Starting with the most recent draft class, the upper crust stars have considered playing in Europe rather than a one year stint
slaving for the man playing in college. Derrick Rose seriously considered going overseas or working out with a trainer for the year. Ultimately, he chose to lead Memphis to the NCAA championship game. OJ Mayo considered challenging the age requirement, but also a temporary stint in Europe. Would he have been better served without the fiasco that hurt his marketability? A fiasco that were it not for the NCAA rules, never would have existed.
On the topic of possible alternate routes, Derrick Rose’s brother, Reggie Rose, was quoted in an New York Times article as stating, “Once one or two players nationally go that route, a big chain will follow.” This could make Brandon Jennings into a trailblazer (no Portland pun intended). If Jennings can pull off the Eurotrip without harming his draft status, he may well set a path that future prep stars may follow.
Sonny Vacaro, a man that sends shivers down the spines of fans and athletic directors alike, considered a European barnstorming tour with the young studs waiting for their draft eligibility. This could have represented the first step towards what could be a tremendous calamity for basketball. NBA commissioner David Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand have made it known they want to increase the age limit by another year, and ultimately, I believe, a third year to be on par with the NFL. Football, however, requires a great many more players, and no country in the world can provide a young football player with an experience on par with college. The same cannot be said for basketball. Basketball is played around the world and as the need for the inclusion of pro players in the Olympics shows, the talent pool in other countries is at least formidable.
Assuming that Stern and Brand get their wish to raise the age limit once again, these elite prospects will find themselves having to wait even longer for a pay day. What if, however, Nike or Adidas (or both) started a basketball academy in Europe? They could potentially buy a team expressly designed to bring over these young talents. What owners would turn down that financial coup? Having a two year wait until the draft, players could work on their skills against other elite players, and would be getting paid to do so. Would you rather watch a random game of Big 10 basketball or a team featuring the likes of Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love? Now, imagine a second year of talented prep stars added to the roster. Suddenly, random European league games could be popping up on the worldwide leader. The NCAA landscape would be changed, once again devoid of the elite talents. Myles Brand, quoted in the Washington Post, said, "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." True, but the NCAA has never had competition, and if elite players start heading overseas, that's exactly what they'll have. The NCAA championship may have a bit of tarnish if there’s a group of 18/19 year-old Americans playing for a professional championship (even if it is overseas).
Curt Flood forever changed the landscape of sports. Brandon Jennings may be the first man taking the steps to do the same in basketball. A Nike-owned superteam of prep stars playing in Europe may never become a reality, but David Stern and Myles Brand will have to re-evaluate the way these players are being treated. Jennings impact may be minimal, most likely if he fails, but if he shows the way for future prospects; his impact stands to be enormous.