Friday, June 26, 2009


And now, for something completely different.

Yesterday on ESPNews – “What’s with Scribe and that channel?”, you must be asking – Fran Fraschilla discussed the evolution of pre-draft scouting by NBA executives over the past decade. As he talked about the increased efforts and resources invested from team officials, the former St. John’s head coach then elaborated on the fundamental difference between international and American players.

For years, Fraschilla has said that international players have a greater maturity than their stateside counterparts. He believes that because they come from countries with tougher and lower standards of living, the internationals are far more appreciative of the chance to play in the NBA compared to American prep school and college kids who see a spot in the Association as a birthright.

He may certainly have a point as some of the best American players currently in the league are guys whose names we have heard about since at least their senior year in high school. The NBA is the end result of years of coddling, hyping and protecting these prodigies in order to have their names called by Commissioner David Stern in late June. However, Fraschilla – whether he was careful to not condemn or condone the American powers-that-be – left out another reason; the difference in basketball development here in the States compared to Europe and Asia.

Here in the States, we have relied on colleges as the minor leagues for the NBA. Whether or not the nation’s high schools and the NCAA have done a good job in being that free feeder system is up for debate (though truthfully, it’s been pretty bad these days), yet the system is an American construct only. Here, we ask our athletes to become the ideal Renaissance (wo)men; Academic and Athletic All-Americans who can juggle The Odyssey, a Spaulding and aid for a few underprivileged kids simultaneously.

Overseas, you have the choice early one to be an academic or an athlete. Players can go into basketball leagues as young as fourteen years of age, even becoming professional if a kid is deemed talented enough to run with a few grizzly veterans. There may not be much of a childhood for those who choose this route, but at least there is little interference and conflicts as there would be if both school and ball had to be balanced.

In a basketball sense, having the chance to play in a league with players of varying experience and styles seems to do more for the internationals than playing in a somewhat stymied league for young Americans. How those development styles translate on the court isn’t very easy to determine as players on either side succeed and fail at about the same clip, according to knowledgeable men like Fraschilla and others who have been around the game for some time.

Just observe the adjustment levels between some of your work or school colleagues. Some who have traveled the traditional path – graduating from an esteemed program of a major four-year college – may struggle in the first few months, or even years, of a job because real life differs greatly from the textbook. Some who had to work their way around to come to the company – transferring colleges or working immediately after high school, working in other industries, etc. – might perform very well in their professions because they were exposed to real-life challenges while their peers were still hitting the books.

No matter what, the beaten path is not a requirement for any player aspiring for the NBA life anymore. It’s an option on both sides as not only are American prep stars such as Jeremy Tyler following in Brandon Jennings’ footsteps but there are more international recruits in US colleges year after year.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Say What?!?!: A couple of weeks late, but best of luck to you, Epiphanny Prince. Even you have chosen the Jennings route. I love it!

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