Buck the System, F*ck the System

I sent Brandon Jennings an email the other night — partly to congratulate him for what he’s shown the balls to do, and partly to wish him well on what he’s trying to do now. By now you know what “it” is: Brandon Jennings is backing out on his commitment to Arizona to play professional basketball next season in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people have a lot of opinions on this topic. Mine is already public knowledge.

Dan Shanoff shares my view of the situation.

His colleague Mike DeCourcy, meanwhile, is about 180 degrees away. I sat on a media panel with DeCourcy at the LeBron James Skills Academy over the weekend, and I respect dude’s experience and knowledge (although he does need to update the headshot on his column; having seen him three days ago, this photo looks to be about 20 years old). He makes a lot of very valid points here, and he might end up being right about all this. But I think he (and my colleague Lang) are missing a couple things in all this. And because Lang and I enjoy few things more than disagreeing with each other, I feel compelled to outline exactly what they’re missing below…

1, Brandon Jennings apparently did quite well on his standardized test the second time he took it, but because he hadn’t done well the first time, the testing company was suspicious and asked him to take it again. Anyone reading this who ever had to take the SAT or ACT once can imagine how much fun it wouldn’t be to have to take it two times, let alone three.

2, It’s not as if dude is googling the names of European club teams and cold calling their front offices in the hope of reaching someone who speaks English. There are people involved on his behalf — specifically Sonny Vaccaro, who knows everything about this game and everyone in it — working to make sure that it works. That’s not to say it WILL work, of course; the point is only that Brandon Jennings and his family aren’t the only ones with something at stake here. Sonny’s been dreaming of pulling off a move like this for YEARS, and he’s been laying the groundwork for a minute. His legacy is on the line to an extent, and I promise you that’s not something he takes lightly. The people involved in making this happen know what they’re doing, and they’re doing everything they can to make it work. That’ll almost definitely mean built-in endorsement cash that no flaky Euroleague GM will be able to flake out on. It’ll mean TONS of media coverage, which will raise Brandon’s profile and long-term earning potential. And it’ll mean working with a European team that has a vested interested in making this work for them, as well.

3, All this talk of Brandon Jennings being exposed by a year in Europe is valid, but only to a point. Put it another way: Did anyone watch this year’s NBA Draft? Particularly the part in the first round when some dude named Alexis Ajinca was taken 20th overall by the Bobcats? I hadn’t heard much of Ajinca before the Draft, and I don’t know much about him now. But I do now this: In two professional seasons in France, Ajinca averaged a whopping 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. So tell me, did Alex get “exposed” by all that top-notch competition in what is probably Europe’s third or fourth (or fifth?) best league? Well, I imagine the folks in the Bobcats’ front office (whoever they might be) would argue that Ajinca has a ton of potential — that he’s a project, and they drafted him as such. Besides, he’s a seven-footer.

Right. So was Frederic Weis.

The point is that plenty of European cats come over here with virtually no real resume but tons of potential and find themselves getting drafted in the first round — and then never pan out. Brandon may not average a triple-double next season — for all I know, he might not average 10 minutes per game — but he’s already got a resume as the best point guard in the 2008 high school class, having put up ridiculous numbers for one of the best prep programs in the country. NBA folks are well aware of this, and they’re not likely to have forgotten it by next summer, regardless of whether he lights Europe on fire in his rookie season.

Again, this may not work. Brandon Jennings may very well go to some team in Italy or Spain and struggle against the older and more physical competition. He may get stuck with an unsympathetic coach or jealous teammates who don’t care if he succeeds, and in fact may not want him to (reverse Toni Kukoc, anyone?). Maybe the cultural differences will make it hard for him to settle in and focus on his game. Or maybe he’ll just turn out to be a flashy high school kid whose game simply isn’t ready for the rigors of pro ball. All of these are real possibilities.

Personally, I think Brandon is good enough and confident enough to make this work, and I hope like hell he does. I can’t wait to watch him try.