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Sunday, November 02, 2008
NY Times Examines NBA's Age Limit and Youth Basketball

I'm honored to have my study "NBA Players That Get in Trouble with the Law: Do Age and Education Level Matter?" discussed in today's New York Times in a fascinating story by Tommy Craggs on basketball phenomenon Renardo Sidney and the developing business relationship between the NBA and NCAA. Craggs also speaks at length with Sonny Vacarro and others about the relationship between the NBA's age limit, the NCAA, and how youth basketball is conducted. As a matter of background, and per the NBA and NBPA's current collective bargaining agreement, a U.S. amateur player must be at least 19-years-old on December 31 of the year of the NBA Draft and at least one NBA season must have passed from when he graduated from high school and the NBA Draft. The conventional wisdom behind this rule is that a star high school basketball player will go to college for at least one year, but there is evidence that such a player will soon be more and more incentivized to go to Europe for a year instead, as in Europe he can earn a six-or-seven figure salary playing the same sport for which he would earn no money playing in college.

Here are several excerpts from NY Times story (which exceeds 6,000 words -- it makes for great Sunday reading):

* * *

The N.C.A.A. has worked assiduously to curb the influence of these [AAU] tournaments. For years, this meant primarily a flurry of rules and recommendations, many designed to limit contact between college and summer coaches and to return the locus of the recruitment process to the high schools, where establishment coaches with better credentials could act as the key brokers between college and player. This spring, however, the N.C.A.A. and the N.B.A., with token participation from the A.A.U. and the shoe companies, upped the ante, announcing a five-year, $50 million effort to reform what the N.C.A.A.’s president, Myles Brand, called the “dysfunctional” world of youth basketball.

Fundamentally, the idea is to seize control of the mechanism by which players like Renardo Sidney launch their careers. What reform actually entails is unclear, but the deal calls for the N.B.A. and the N.C.A.A. to each chip in $15 million, with another $20 million coming through joint-marketing ventures. The contributions will fund an as-yet-unnamed program that will offer an alternative structure for youth basketball. The N.C.A.A. News wrote, “The new structure is designed to negate the effects of third-party influences currently working the youth basketball environment,” by which it meant “people who may not have the player’s best interests at heart.”

* * *

This summer, Vaccaro was instrumental in the decision by the prized point-guard recruit Brandon Jennings to spurn Arizona — he had not yet qualified academically — and instead play professionally overseas, sidestepping the N.B.A. entirely and making Jennings a wealthy man. (He was reportedly inspired after he and his mother heard Vaccaro on the radio discussing Europe as a viable option for newly minted high-school grads.) Playing in Italy for Lottomatica Virtus Roma, Jennings will earn $1.2 million this season in salary and endorsements. If all goes well, he will be a top-10 pick in next year’s N.B.A. draft.

To see Mayo work the phones, or Jennings draw a paycheck in euros at an age when he’d normally be running suicides for Lute Olson, is to see the players gaining the leverage that probably should have been theirs in the first place. For Mayo and Jennings, the supposedly dysfunctional summer game was in fact perfectly functional.

* * *

And here is Renardo Sidney, the sum of basketball’s newest fears.

“Renardo Sidney,” Reebok’s Christopher Rivers says. “Fantastic basketball player. Good kid, never been arrested, not on drugs, never kicked out of school, not failing classes. He’s a normal kid. Probably comes home late and spends too much time on his computer. But because he’s 6-foot-10 and he’s special and has the ability to make a lot of money if he continues his craft, and he’s treated like there’s something wrong with him? What’s wrong with him?”

* * *

To read the rest of the story, which is titled "The Next Big Thing," click here. For related coverage, check out Marc Isenberg of Money Players for his post on one and done.


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