Friday, May 16, 2008

Career Choice: College vs Internationals

A lot of people have been claiming that the international game is a better feeder system to the NBA than the NCAA lately. I must admit it does seem to be a compelling argument when you consider that three of the top rookies this season came from international backgrounds (Navarro, Scola and Yi). Throw on top of that Jamario Moon who played internationally before making it in the NBA and there is serious support for the allegation that the international game, with their focus on team play and fundamentals, should be the place kids go while waiting to be allowed access to the NBA. And this is not taking into account the OJ Mayo situation where college players are being paid under the table.

So why don't kids chose the international game with their professional seasons and salary over college?

The cynics might say their handlers have no pull overseas and so they push them toward the college ranks where they can continue to exert their influence (and continue to get 'gifts' from agents). Some might say that the kids don't want to leave their homes and families to be alone in the old world. There is validity to both arguments.

But is that reason enough that no high school players have tried to go overseas? Imagine you are a talented player and you don’t have the grades to get accepted to a major college. Would you rather attend a junior college hoping to get your grades up and transfer or spend a year in Barcelona getting paid and living the good life? In my opinion the answer seems simple.

Of course, to me the language barrier could be overcome easily and I have no dreams of making the NBA as a player so my opinion isn't really germaine. Things are different overseas and it is quite likely those differences and not pay-offs or the love of their family and friends that keeps Americans at home. The European basketball game is college length so players don't play 35 minutes a game most nights, the players are more mature and as a rookie in the league you would not be playing more than 20 minutes at most. Would that exposure enable you to reach the NBA in a year or two? How would a 19 yr old rookie who doesn't speak the local language compete with older men familiar with the lifestyle, the language and the system? Consider how hard it was for Navarro to break into the lineup in Memphis when he couldn't speak English and Navarro was a former MVP overseas. Wouldn't it be even more difficult for a young man who knows no one, can't speak the language and is away from hoome for the 1st time?

It's a risk and a big one at that.

This assumes the European leagues would want want such a player. Right now the NBA and FIBA has a cordial relationship. Would that continue if European teams started to aggressively court US high school players for their leagues? It was rumored that an Italian league team offered LeBron James a contract as a high school junior to play his senior year overseas so it may already be happening. How long would the NBA maintain the age limit if players started darting to Europe instead of the NCAA after high school? Do the European leagues want players who would want to be paid a nice salary and yet have cheap buyouts every year of the contract? Do Europeans want to be a feeder league for the NBA?

Probably not but the Euroleagues might be interested in acquiring American players earlier. Players turn professional as early as 16 in Europe. Would a team be interested in signing Americans onto their junior rosters when they can get 3-4 years to develop the players? What would happen if that 8th grader who promised to sign a letter of intent to USC suddenly decided to play for FC Barcelona instead?

If a US high school athlete was seriously considering a professional basketball career at a young age he might be tempted to play overseas. What are the pros of going overseas? The 3 pt line is between the NBA mark and the college line so you would have a better idea about how that player could shoot the three in the NBA. He would be playing a more physical game which would prepare him for the NBA life much better. Playing a professional season would train him physically more than college would. The competition would be higher over all. The maturity of the player playing oversees would be higher in general from the experience.

The cons are that he may not make it overseas and then he doesn't have an education, even at the high school level. What would he do then? The trapezoid lane and other rule differences would alter the players development in ways unimaginable. He wouldn't be as familiar to NBA coaches and scouts which could hamper his draft status. He could get into trouble being a teenager on his own. It happens here with college players in their teens. What would happen to a teenager in Europe in similiar situations?

I suppose that some player will take the challenge and bolt to Europe instead of college some day and depending on how he develops more may follow but for now I doubt the international game will be viewed as a realistic alternative for most players no matter how many OJ Mayo's are found taking money.

Unless the NCAA starts penalizing the players instead of the school for accepting money for their efforts. Then all bets are off.

BallHype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

Players are able to market themselves a lot better in the NCAA. They can build much more of a name because of the way NCAA games are televised now. Really popular players from the NCAA come into the league with an already established fan base.

Chip Crain said...

True but what about a player who doesn't qualify for the NCAA? Would he not be better off turning pro out of high school and signing a guaranteed 2 yr deal with a player option on the 3rd year overseas?

Someone is going to do it and depending on how successful he is many more may follow.

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