Friday, April 24, 2009

Intrepid

For those who have been reading Scribe for a while, you are well aware that the NCAA is as close to a cuss word as there is on this blog. It’s not so much about the action as it about the politics surrounding the surface of play. There’s no question that as long as basketball and football continue to be the engine that drives the organization, the debate about compensation for its athletes beyond scholarships will rage on.

Yet, though it may not appear to be the case right now, the future of the NCAA hinges on a couple of intrepid kids.

Last year, it was Brandon Jennings who decided to jump across the pond – bypassing the NCAA in the process – to play professional basketball in Italy before offering his services to the NBA. Now, we have Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 prospect from San Diego, who has decided to take things to another level by forgoing his senior year in high school.

High school.

It appears that Jennings’ gamble, which was to join a league where he would be tested by seasoned pros and endure a more grueling schedule than even the top NCAA teams create, has paid off as he’s projected to be at least a middle first-round draft pick in June. While many believe that his decision was based on not performing well on the SATs in order to enroll at Arizona (a test is not a measure of someone’s aptitude, contrary to popular opinion), Jennings understood that he would be wasting time in playing against peers that he easily dominated or would toss aside in college. Having played numerous invitational games (high school and AAU) seemed to have been all the evidence Jennings to see that there would be little challenge to spend the mandatory one season away from prep school to play in the NCAA.

So, in the face of those whose extol the virtues of a ‘free education’ while pocketing money for the work of these athletic marketing representatives (which is what a student-athlete essentially is), Jennings essentially became an apprentice. He decided to build his craft in a foreign land among men who are playing for more than mere dreams, but for mere employment in an ├╝ber-competitive industry.

Tyler would have been a lottery pick in the pre-age limit NBA. Where Jennings appears to be the best young American point guard not in the Association, skilled big men are coveted with as much fervor as finding reasons to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. Yet, deciding to skip his senior year in high school seems to be for similar reasons as Jennings; being a man among boys. Why go through another year of quadruple teams against kids nowhere near your size? Why deal with an eventual college coach who is going to work to only keep his job or look ahead for the big program?

Yet people will be up in arms about Tyler’s decision to skip the senior prom, the senior trip, the aptitude exams and missing out on a 400-karat high school ring from a mail-order catalogue. The thing is that Tyler understood that the NCAA isn’t the only organization that feeds off of young talents, but his high school as well.

He understood that in high school (including those AAU teams and basketball factory prep schools), there isn’t a foundation or even interest to cultivate more than a handful of talented kids. Much of the reason for the age limit in the Association is because when a bunch of random names threw their names in the hat, there were too many ‘raw’ prospects, unfinished products and unprepared youngsters who were pushed through the traditional channels too fast.

This isn’t to say that either Tyler or Jennings will become multiple All-Star selections and win NBA titles. It’s quite possible that both completely bomb out when they reach the NBA (next season for Jennings, 2011 for Tyler at least). Yet, it’s hard to get upset at two kids willing to take such drastic steps to get one step closer to making their dreams come true.

For all the histrionics about the one-and-done players who are apparently wasting a college’s resources by not being engaged in the classroom, just be happy that there are a couple of teen phenoms who don’t want to do the same to some high school.

Say What?!?!: Further commentary found here.

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