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NBA players should first play in college

Not since Michael Jordan has there been a more explosive, talented athlete in the NBA than LeBron James.

At the age of 18 he’s already proven himself in a league full of players twice his age–yet he may be the worst thing that has happened to the sport since Kevin Garnett came into the league in 1995.

It was then that the NBA’s phenomenon of drafting high schoolers began. Garnett started a trend that has become more and more prevalent in recent years. No longer did the top high school athletes choose to play for the Dukes and Kentuckys of college basketball, and for good reason. Why waste time playing in college when millions of dollars are at stake?

Last season James became a multimillionaire before ever being drafted, inking a $90 million shoe contract with Nike. With all the hype surrounding his NBA takeover, many thought he would fold under the pressure, but he proved his critics wrong, winning the rookie of the year award and averaging over 20 points per game. His emergence into superstardom at such a young age is a reason to worry about the future of the NBA since it has given other top high school players hope that they can do the same thing.

This misconception will ruin more lives of high school hopefuls than ever before. In last month’s NBA Draft, a record seven players were selected straight out of high school. While there is bound to be at least one future superstar among that mix (possibly Dwight Howard or Shaun Livingston), it may take a while before any of them are ready for major minutes.

Sure there are those who succeed, but of the 37 players drafted straight out of high school, only seven players (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Amare Stoudamire, and Lebron James) have turned themselves into all-star caliber talents. Even for most of these players it took at least a year or two until they significantly made a difference for their respective teams. Jermaine O’Neal, for example, didn’t average more than five points per game in a season until his fifth year in the league.

Yet most rookie contracts last up to three years if drafted in the first round, so basically these high schoolers get paid to ride the bench for their first contract. No one deserves to be a multimillion dollar bench warmer, especially at such a young age.

Unfortunately there are many high school prospects that don’t get as lucky. While it’s so easy to remember the successes of the players above, no one seems to remember the high school busts over the last few years.

Of the 37 high school prospects who have declared for the NBA Draft since 1995, nine went undrafted, while another five turned out to be major failures. Both Korleone Young and Leon Smith were considered to have loads of potential and be ready to dominate in “a few years.” Yeah right!

Young, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round back in ’98, played a whopping three games (all during blowouts) before he was cut at the end of the season. He never resurfaced in the NBA again.

Another guy, Leon Smith is an even sadder case. After the Dallas Mavericks drafted him in the first round of the 1999 Draft, Mavs coach Don Nelson thought Smith should spend a little time in the CBA until he was ready. Smith wanted no part of that and had continuous arguments with Nelson as well as off-the-court distractions. He later ended up in a psychiatric hospital after he overdosed on 250 aspirin, while strangely looking like an old-fashioned Indian. When he was finally revived at the hospital he thought he was a real Indian who was supposed to fight Christopher Columbus.

It’s about time for NBA Comissioner David Stern to make some changes. Either raising the age limit from 18 to 20, or creating a minor league affiliation would work wonders for the NBA right about now.

Both the NHL and major league baseball have minor league affiliations where young athletes can polish their skills until their mentally and physically ready for big time competition. However, the NBA player only has two options: either make the team, or get cut. The NFL is the only other major sport without a minor league system, but no high school players are allowed in to begin with, and the average team is nearly four times the size of an NBA team anyways.

Although there is the NBDL, which is a developmental league, there is no affiliation involved with any of the pro teams where a player can simply be send down when they’re not ready.

But to have a more effective league it would only make sense for Stern to force every high schooler thinking about the NBA to at least try college for a couple years first. Without a college education these players miss out on a chance to help themselves get a job and support themselves when their career is over. After all the average NBA lifespan is only 3 years. If they are truly good enough to play in the NBA then what’s there to rush?

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