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Friday, July 11th, 2008 at 11:06 am  |  36 responses

A Few More Thoughts on Brandon Jennings

The college coaches chime in, and my heart is warmed.

Saw this today, and I smiled. I smiled because I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to distract me from getting actual work done today, and now I do.

The story, for those too lazy to click on the link, is headlined “Lute Olson Says He’s Done With ‘One and Done’ Players.” Hard to blame him, I guess, seeing as how that ungrateful, misguided young whippersnapper Brandon Jennings (aka “None & Done,” which I really hope he gets tattooed across his back before he leaves for Europe) totally reneged on his commitment to play for Lute’s Wildcats next season. I have sympathy for these college coaches, whose employment hinges largely on the whims of 17- and 18-year-old kids who are A) only looking out for themselves, B) don’t always know what’s best for them, and C) often have shady people with ulterior motives whispering in their ears. It’s a tough job, coaching Division 1 college basketball.

I could, of course, go on a rant about how if these coaches cared so much about teaching (like they all claim to) and a bit less about winning and making sh*tloads of money (which they tend not to bring up), they’d go coach in NAIA or something. But I won’t.

Anyway.

Here’s what Lute and I can agree on: The one-and-done rule is a “farce.” Where we don’t agree is on WHY it’s a farce, and what to do about it.

Lute thinks it’s a farce for the same reasons most college coaches think it’s a farce, because it makes their jobs harder by taking away what they believe is rightly theirs: The “right” to pimp the best young basketball players in America for fun and profit before releasing those players to actually go make a living.

I think it’s a farce because it’s hypocritical, immoral, and unfair (and maybe even unconstitutional!) That’s just me.

So what to do about it? Here’s what Lute thinks:

Olson suggests that elite prep players be given a choice: opt to declare for the NBA draft immediately after high school, or be committed to spending a minimum of two years (Olson would prefer three) in college.

More limitations on what players can and can’t do? That’s a great idea! Except for the, like, 800 reasons it’s not. Here are four of them:

-Isn’t the idea of old, rich (and mostly white) people restricting when and how young, often poor (and mostly black) players can begin earning a living playing basketball the reason we’re in this mess in the first place?

-Did you know (I’m betting Lute does!) that NCAA scholarships are awarded on a year-to-year basis? Student-athletes don’t really get “four-year” rides — they get one-year rides that can be renewed or rescinded at a coach’s discretion. So what ol’ Lute proposes is locking a kid into a multi-year commitment at an institution that won’t commit to the kid for more than one year at a time — all to play for a coach who has a guaranteed contract he can back out of whenever a better offer comes along! I don’t know what that’s called, but it’s frickin’ AWESOME.

-Along those lines, do you think Lute would be open to having to “commit” to the University of Arizona in such a way that he might, say, have to forfeit his entire contract, or be forbidden from coaching at another school, if he decided to leave early? I’m gonna guess no.

-You think Lute would happily let one of his players take a year off, with essentially no warning, for unspecified and murkily explained “personal reasons,” then come back and reclaim his starting spot with no questions asked? Because that’s pretty much EXACTLY what Lute himself did last year! Coaches get to call it a “hiatus.” Again, I call it “awesome.”

But back to this L.A. Times story, which at this point I’m pretty much breaking down paragraph by paragraph (you’re welcome). Lute also bemoans the one-and-done departure of Jerryd Bayless, the freshman guard who was drafted last month. To quote the Hall of Fame coach:

“Jerryd said all along he wanted to stay here two years,” Olson said. “But then you get the agents working on the kids and parents all year. You might have the kid in your controlled environment for some time, but when [outsiders are] on the parents, you have no idea what’s going on.”

But wait—there’s more!

Olson said the hits to Arizona’s roster culminates a scene he forecast when the NBA and its players’ union agreed to allow one-and-done after the 2005 season.

“We said at the time it’d be a disaster, that agents would be swarming all over — not only over these kids, but their parents — telling them the kid needed to score a ton of points in the one year and get out,” Olson. “I’m not saying that’s the case in every situation, but you’ve already seen the danger. What we predicted is happening. This is agent-driven, and it’s a horrible rule.”

All fair points. Um, sort of. Can we assume a couple things here, Lute?

Can we assume that, even if he’d never met or heard from an agent, Jerryd Bayless might’ve been able to ascertain that he was a first-round draft pick after just one year of college?

Can we assume that these evil agents — some of whom are in fact evil, no doubt — have actually been around forever in some form or another, and that they have been and always will be trying to influence players no matter how long you try to keep those players locked down?

Can we assume that one of the reasons a lot of these evil agents do so well for themselves is that they align themselves with prominent college coaches, who steer players toward agents they “trust”?

Can we assume that you, in fact, have an agent?

Can we assume that lots of prominent college coaches have relationships with runners — “street agents,” as the phrase goes — who help direct high school talent to their programs?

Can we assume that “controlled environment” you speak of is code for a magical land called Tucson, where you’re the saintly father figure looking out of the best interests of your student-athletes, who toil for the cost of a scholarship (one that doesn’t cover a few grand a year in expenses, mind you) while you rake in millions in salary and endorsements?

Can we, finally, assume that agents are people who try to get young basketball players to make decisions that will make them (the agents) rich, which might also be considered an accurate definition of YOUR job?

I think we can assume all of this.

Oh, and here’s a theoretical: Let’s say I was about to interview a high school player. Wouldn’t it be crazy if one of your assistant coaches had called me, unsolicited, and asked if I’d give that player the impression that your program had encouraged Slam to feature him in our magazine? I think it would be crazy, if it had happened. Which I’m not saying it did. Obviously.

Anyway, the story ends on a somewhat encouraging note—encouraging in that it implies many of Lute’s prominent peers are coming at this issue from a more rational place. Like Jim Boeheim:

Asked if he too would follow Olson’s disregard for “one-and-done” candidates, Boeheim asked, “Are you crazy?” and cast doubt on the seriousness of Olson’s claim.

That’s what I’M saying! Oh—sorry to interrupt, coach.

“We don’t know who’s going to go,” Boeheim said. “You try to get the best 11 players you can. Guys will leave . . . it’s a fact of life . . . but you still have 10 guys. When we recruit, we try to get the best one we can and hope he’s good enough to win you a national championship, like Carmelo Anthony. But you have to be prepared for guys leaving, like Carmelo did.”

Carmelo Anthony. Totally forgot about him! He was good at basketball.

Here’s another coach who seems capable of making sense:

USC Coach Tim Floyd said despite the short-term stay of star guard Mayo this past season, the player “did a lot for our program, and if we had an opportunity to sign O.J. or a great talent like him again, we would.

“These guys didn’t design the rules, the NBA did. I advocate letting the kid go straight to the NBA if he wants, but we won’t model this thing. The NBA will.”

Then there’s Tubby Smith, who says… this:

“The NBA and college basketball continue to prosper, but we’ve got to be careful and make sure we’re doing our best to monitor the kids’ best interest.”

Which can be taken all sorts of ways. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to any grown man who goes by “Tubby,” so I’ll assume he means well.

I have no beef with Lute Olson, and I can imagine the frustration of spending so much time and money recruiting a kid, only to see him bail on you at the last second. But Brandon Jennings wouldn’t have made this decision if the NBA and NCAA didn’t have such a horsesh*t system that’s meant to protect their interests while making guys like Lute Olson rich with zero regard for the welfare of kids like Jennings. I’m guessing Lute’s been a part of the system so long that this doesn’t even occur to him. Maybe now it will. But probably not.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I’m pretty sure this is the last I’ll write about this.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    Lute is just angry that Arizona might not even be good enough for the Nike premier jerseys that all the top teams get next year.And I’m sure Lute is just looking out for Brandon’s best interests…

  • http://www.ballerblogger.com Brandon Hoffman

    Great read Ryan. Thank you.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Ryan milked this more than a plump prostate! Excellent, btw.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Awesome! ****grabs popcorn****

  • http://myspace.com Bryan

    College basketball is a joke.

  • http://slamonline.com Holly MacKenzie

    Ryan is fantastic. Appreciate you breaking it all down for us, Jones.

  • http://fjkdlzf.com Jukai

    Devante got dunked on and it changed his life

  • http://fjkdlzf.com Jukai

    I love how this article just sprinkles in a touch of race, because, as you well know, all white basketball players are rich

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I think of it more “spritzing” than sprinkling, but as long as you like it, dude, I know I done good.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Oh come on. He’s just bitter that he lost Jennings. Great article. Having an NBA-ready player stay in college for 2-3 years as a rule is a waste of time – and jeopardizes his career. Sure, it’s fine and all if the player and his family are financially stable, but that’s not the case for a lot of players – heck, for a lot of people, period. What did Brandon mean to Lute? He would’ve been one-and-done ANYWAY, which meant that to Lute he’s just a ticket to another NCAA tourney – and likely more fat paychecks. But Jennings has his CAREER to worry about. Geez.

  • http://fjkdlzf.com Jukai

    Actually Ryan, I regetted commenting before reading it. I actually (and unusually) agreed with everything you said.

  • dfrance

    Isn’t that what you have scouts for? Do you recruit players hoping that in 2-3 years they’ll lead you to a Championship? Maybe Lute should recruit less talented players that are not good enough to go to the NBA and then they have no choice but to stay.

  • http://www.DreAllDay.com dre baldwin

    hell of a post. excellent points all!

  • john

    Professional athletics is a business and can dictate their hiring practices as they see fit. If they want to have restrictions on what age level, it is their right. 18 year old kids have ALWAYS been able to play professionally in Europe, quite complaining and using the race card, this is about improving the talent coming into the NBA, it is their right to do whatever they want to, no matter if you agree or not.

  • bike

    Maybe Lute should pay more attention to what kind of a student he is recruiting. If BJ has scored high enough on the SAT first time around, all this might be moot. Lute, make sure your recruiting time, money, and effort is being spent on a kid that can read, write, and has at least past woodshop in the 3rd grade before blasting the stupid system!

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    Wow, co-sign every word of this post.

  • http://rivals. devil lover

    Loot the fuit loop strikes again. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Old white man telling all the poor young black folks what’s best for them. Sounds like America to me.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com DP

    I feel Lute’s pain but you got to get over the sh*t. Chase B. is a hell of a lot angrier than ole Lute. Just think, kid dropped out of the draft not because he didn’t think he was ready, but because he felt that BJ would make his ass look a great deal better. play wit it.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Pretty rich of Lute to complain after he sat out a whole season. Ask Jerryd how much of a commitment he was feeling from Lute when the laidback, offensive-minded coach took a leave and allowed screaming, defensive-minded Kevin O’Neill to take over. Good for Jerryd to peace out.

  • Phil Deeze

    Great post. Great comments, too.

    I find Lute Olson’s b$tching absolutely uproarious. Memo to Lute: don’t recruit McD AA’s if you’re so scared they’ll go pro if someone opens their eyes and shows them how to make money. Unless you want to try to live off of no stipend and have YOUR mom and dad pay for your pizza and on-campus accomodations. You like your nice house, nice car and fridge full of food, yes?

    From what I understand, Brandon Jennings’ home situation isn’t exactly Grant Hill. I don’t think he’s got the luxury to stay in school for three years.

    I think what people like Lute Olson and sportswriters that complain about one-and-dones fail to recognize is that, in this country (even with the opportunities that are there for people,) college is priced out of many people’s reach. Four-year schools aren’t cheap. I’d bet that thousands and thousands of kids coming out of HS don’t go to places like Arizona (certainly not on schollie) and have to work at a Walgreen’s or a factory to help out their family.
    If Jennings did, indeed, get the requisite score to be eligible to play at Arizona, Lute Olson is saying he wouldn’t take the kid because I bet every coach in America with a scholarship left would take him.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    Jones: Your work is always enjoyable to me. When i read it it makes me laugh and cry in the place in my stomach where my long intestine should be! Luke shold just go on Oprah and start crying. That is how he will win the hearts of college fans as the coaching sweetheart. Kevin Oneill should not be allowed to coach agian, but neither should Bill Self (even if Kannas won)

  • Danny

    Good stuff, Ryan. So what would your solution be? High school to NBA? Pay college players?

  • Steve

    The NBA just wants to get free marketing for its future players, and uses college basketball for this purpose.

    The colleges want to make money, and use their athletes for this purpose. The athletes, while making money for their colleges, and the NBA in the future, earn nothing for their efforts.

    I’m not saying that college coaches are bad people; the situation isn’t their fault. The NCAA is being greedy and David Stern is being even greedier.

    There are players who are good enough to play in the NBA after high school (Kobe, LeBron, Amare, KG, Dwight et al) and it is unfair to force them to spend a year in college when they have no intention of getting a degree and cannot earn money.

    Players deserve the choice. The player can go to college if he wants to. But is it ethically wrong for the NBA and NCAA to profit off athletes without paying them.

  • http://slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Hi Danny,
    Thanks for asking. Of course the high school to NBA jump should be allowed (quick — name your top five MVP candidates from last season. How many of them went to college?) I’m torn on paying college players but certainly think it should be considered. Beyond all that, here’s what I posted on my first column on this subject back on June 23, cut-and-pasted here for your perusal:

    Here’s how it works:
    The NBA starts a youth academy. This is a physical place, like a prep-school sized campus with dorms, classrooms, everything.
    The location does not matter.
    They use their own network of scouts to identify the top 25 prospects in each class from, say, 7th through 11th grade. 125 kids total.
    They put together a curriculum of basic high school-caliber academics, and combine it with specific classes geared toward their potential NBA future: Finances, groupie sex-ed, media relations, etc. And instead of PhysEd, obviously, they play, practice and train for basketball.
    It’s a year-round school.
    The faculty consists of regular high school teachers to deal with the readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rythmatic, special instructors for the more “practical” classes, and then a world-class training and coaching staff for hoops.
    At the end of each year, the kids who still show NBA potential move on to the next grade to continue at NBAHS, all the way up to graduation. The kids who can’t keep up are given a pat on the butt and sent back to their hometown, where they’ll most likely be the best player on their high school team and have their pick of a college scholarship when they graduate.
    The most promising kids out in the regular high school world will be brought into replace the ones who leave, keeping enrollment numbers static from year to year.
    The kids who do last in this system will have been kept away from crappy AAU coaching and slimy agent types. They will be fully indoctrinated into the NBA way of thinking, and they will be as ready as for NBA life on and off the court as is humanly possible.
    They will be eligible to go immediately into the Draft pool. However — because they haven’t actually been “paid” to play, just gotten a grant as if they’d gone to IMG (the obvious model for all this) or a prep school — they’ll be able to retain their college eligibility as well.
    The League’s many media relationships will make promotion of these prospects a cinch. The best of them will absolutely be household names by the time they graduate from NBAHS.
    Hence, the NCAA is officially irrelevant to the League.
    Yes, the League pays for all of this.
    Long term, it will more than pay for itself 1000 times over.
    Because it’s too logical, it’ll probably never happen.

  • http://myspace.com/mrdyalekt d.Y.

    Lute sounds like Don King decrying corruption in boxing. The paragraph about the 1 yr scholarships is the best bunching of sentences I’ve seen from you. Oh and I again fully support NBAHS. That type of specialized charter school is the model for what I’d like to see as a nationwide school overhaul.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cub Buenning

    Just got to this today on Monday.
    Great read, Ryan. Thank you.

  • Danny

    Thanks, Ryan, for taking the trouble. Definitely a good read. Not so sure I’m on board with the idea of scouting 7th graders and below though… Just the last two or three years of high school and a bigger class may work better. Lets the kids have a ‘normal’ life a little longer too.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Nobody is more skeeved out about scouting elementary schoolers than me, Danny.

  • Steve

    Sounds like Lute Olson is annoyed that Brandon didn’t get a high enough score for Arizona, and decided to go to Europe regardless.

    I say get rid of the age restriction. If a player is good enough he should be allowed to go to the NBA.

    However, if a player is undrafted out of high school, the NCAA should allow them to play college basketball. This would require a change of rules, but would result in more good players playing for college teams, thus improving the quality of NCAA Basketball.

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    I only got to this now. Good read, Jones, although if you secretly hoped Olson would somehow get a whiff of this piece and actually read it, you probably should’ve written a severely abridged version. Since the man obviously has what is referred to in the medical circles as Ethical Bush-itis (lately seen affecting such people in high-profile positions as David Stern).

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    Yes, I know that didn’t make too much sense.

  • Brandon

    NBAHS is too logical yes. but it should happen, how manu of the all nba first team were straight out of high school?? that’s right all save 1.

    one and done defeats the purpose of student athlete. but would there be less players going one and done if they can go straight out of high school?

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