Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So Maybe Skipping College Ball For Europe Ain't Such A Bad Idea.

A few months ago, I bought you guys the story of Brandon Jennings, a McDonalds All American point guard from Compton, CA who is making the unprecedented step of skipping college to play pro basketball overseas. Jennings was considered a potential NBA lottery pick next Summer, but could not get a high enough SAT score to attend the University of Arizona. So his agent negotiated a deal to allow Jennings to play for in Italy, in hopes that learning the pro game rather than toiling away for one season in college would still result in Jennings becoming a high NBA pick, while getting him pizzaid in the meantime.

Many saw this development as a travesty of justice, a sign that too many Black youth see basketball, not books, as their way out. Some saw this as further evidence that the NCAA exploits athletes with little in return, and it's about time the players struck back.

For the love of the game, I just wished Jennings the best. Seems like it's panning out for him so far.

The biggest perk for Brandon Jennings, and one of the biggest reasons he has thrived in his first month playing professional basketball here, is that he was able to bring along his mother, Alice Knox, and half brother, Terrence Phillips.

Jennings, 19, is enjoying providing a better life for them than the one that they had in California. He was born and raised in Compton and had to cope with his father’s suicide. He was 7 or 8 at the time, he said, and had to grow up fast and become the man of the house.

Now Jennings makes $1.2 million a year in salary and endorsements, and the team provides a luxury three-bedroom apartment, a Volvo station wagon and eight round-trip tickets between Rome and the United States.

Knox, 47, stressed that the family wasn’t poor but “working-class people just trying to get by.” She worked in insurance for years and said she was making $15 an hour at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., before leaving for Italy.

Her family’s life has changed for the better, she said. The dinners at Del Taco and In N Out Burger, two fast-food restaurants in abundance near the family’s Los Angeles home, have been replaced by salmon, chicken and vegetables bought fresh daily at a local market.

Jennings’s club agreed to pay Terrence’s tuition at the Marymount International School, which costs about $20,000 a year and whose students represent more than 50 nationalities.

Jennings said that three high school players in the class of 2009 — the California big men Renardo Sidney and Jordan Hamilton and Lance Stephenson of Brooklyn — were talented enough to play professionally in Europe. Stephenson’s father, Lance Sr., has expressed interest in making the move.
So, in total, it seems like Jennings is adjusting well off the court, primarily because he's got a supportive family and a club that wants him to excel. Dude is getting paid, his little brother's getting an excellent education, his Mom doesn't have to break her back working, and the family seems happy in their new home country. But how's the prep phenom doing on the court? He's leading the team with a 20ppg average through the exhibition season, and his standing as a Top-5 NBA prospect seems like a lock now.

Sure, it's possible that Jennings could quickly flame out once the games actually start mattering. He could always get hurt and see his stock tank. He might find himself buried on the bench if the team gets off to a slow start. But reality is, even if these worst case scenarios come to pass, Jennings already has $1.2M in the bank, and counting. He can always go to college, provided he eventually passes the SAT.

I'll make a bold prediction here and say that Brandon Jennings is about to change the face of collegiate athletics. 10 years from now, the NCAA will realize it has to pay the players of revenue generating sports something for their trouble. Yeah, the players get a scholarship, but that ride is renewable on a year to year basis, and can be (and often quietly is, the usually say the player "transferred", but this is just code for "released") pulled if the player doesn't live up to expectations. Meanwhile, many college basketball coaches make $3-4M per season, and most are by far the highest paid employees of their perspective states. The kids still face long odds of making the NBA, despite all the work they do to fill the coffers of these schools, making school presidents, coaches, TV stations, advertisers, merchandisers, and AD's rich in the process. Most players don't make the NBA. Heck, most don't even graduate.

I say more power to Brandon Jennings for stickin' it to The Man and gettin' paid.

College is for suckers. Get money!

Question: Do you think Brandon Jennings' success in Italy could have a ripple effect on college basketball?

Family Keeps Teenage Pro Grounded [NYTimes]

At 19, Plotting New Path to N.B.A., via Europe [NYTimes]

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