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Gimino: Just let young stars in NBA right away

Brandon Jennings on a playing card created to promote the McDonald's All-America Game

Brandon Jennings on a playing card created to promote the McDonald's All-America Game

Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson had it right three summers ago.

When the NBA instituted an age limit, requiring U.S. players to be a year removed from their graduating high school class, Olson said this:

“I’m disappointed. This is just a stop-gap measure. It gives the NBA the ability to say that they did something about the problem, but it doesn’t realistically address the problem or the effect it has on college basketball.”

The stop-gap has been exposed.

UA signee Brandon Jennings is headed off to Europe for a year instead of attending college. Other high school players will watch closely. Will the move help Jennings’ game? Will European teams embrace the kid from America?

Guaranteed: Others will follow.

Some hail Jennings as a pioneer for sticking it to the NCAA and the NBA and not playing by their rules. I might buy that if Jennings hadn’t sprung the decision the summer before his freshman year, with his SAT score not secure, after making Arizona invest a roster spot.

In any case, it’s good that light is shined on a bad rule.

High school basketball players, ready or not, should be able to try for the NBA.

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, it worked out just fine for Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Amaré Stoudemire, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and others.

It didn’t work out so well for some. That’s not the point. Point is, don’t try to legislate common sense.

It’s just un-American to deny an 18-year-old with a killer crossover dribble an opportunity to play at the highest level.

That’s not to say college basketball hasn’t benefited from the NBA age limit. Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley are among those who gave it the ol’ college try for a year, and made it a better game.

Somehow, I suspect college basketball would have survived without them.

Yeah, it’s a superstar-driven culture, but college sports are as much – if not more so – about the name on the front of the jersey as the back.

Just let these guys go right to the NBA.

Then college coaches, such as the ones at Arizona, can stop chasing their recruiting tails by courting the one-and-done players, such as Jerryd Bayless.

Problem is, how do you not recruit a guy like that? You almost have to, if given the chance. As then-UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said about Bayless last fall, “It still made great sense to recruit him.”

But the rule that does force (or nearly force) kids into college basketball creates some issues.

The top college programs, such as Arizona, have to deal with constant speculation about who is staying and who is going.

Amid that uncertainty, recruiting must be constantly replenished. It’s a delicate dance of roster balance.

A better rule would be to make college basketball like college baseball.

High school ballplayers can either declare for the major-league draft or commit to playing in college for three years. Let’s make it two years for college basketball players and call it good.

Options and opportunities. That sounds fair enough for the players (who I suppose could play in college for one year and then bolt to Europe for a year, but let’s not go down that path right now).

Anyway, Olson has endorsed the two-year idea in the past. O’Neill did too.

O’Neill has seen both sides of the NBA rule as a coach.

“For the good of the kids, I think it would be good if (the NBA) made them stay two years,” O’Neill said last fall.

“There can’t be any worse feeling for a kid than to think he’s the star of stars and then go to the league and find out he’s just another peon who nobody cares about.”

No changes are imminent. The NBA and the players’ union are at least three years away from negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement.

For now, Olson says he will re-evaluate the way he recruits the most elite players.

“We’re going to change our position,” he told Foxsports.com, “and if we think someone we’re recruiting has that kind of thought about going to Europe, we’re going to stop trying to recruit those type of guys.”

Good idea for now.

And then let’s hope the NBA changes its rules.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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