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College isn't for everyone - NBA Hoops

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Taken from Cnnsi.com

Players show jump from high school to NBA can work

With every fiber of my being, I once believed that high school basketball phenoms were better off going to college than jumping directly to the NBA. It was my contention that college is so valuable as a learning tool, so much a part of the evolutionary social process, that anyone who could take advantage of it should, and those who don't will surely find trial and tribulation in the jet-streamed, cash-and-carry world of pro hoops.

Now I'm not so sure.

More and more high school players are making at the very least a satisfactory transition to pro ball, if not an out-and-out smooth one. This occurred to me recently when I spent time with the Orlando Magic for a Sports Illustrated story on Grant Hill that will appear in this week's issue, and had the opportunity to talk with and observe Tracy McGrady. When McGrady announced he was foregoing college and heading straight to the NBA in 1997, his resumé promised trouble -- multitudinous high schools, bad grades, an offensive-minded game. Well, as it turns out, there are few players in the league right now who handle themselves, on and off the court, better than the 23-year-old McGrady.

Kobe Bryant? Have you read about him in any police reports since he jumped from Lower Merion High in suburban Philadelphia in 1996? Didn't you wonder about the maturity level of Darius Miles, who came straight out of East St. Louis High three years ago? Well, while I don't expect to see him jawboning about politics with Tim Russert any time soon, he's a nice young man who plays hard and has a tremendous upside.

Remember how several teams were scared off by the multi-talented Kevin Garnett because of race-related incident he had in his native South Carolina and the fact that he graduated from an inner-city school (Farragut Academy in Chicago)? Since being picked fifth in the '95 draft he has been a leader almost from the first moment he arrived in Minnesota.

Right after Jonathan Bender was selected in that same spot in the '99 draft, I visited with him and his family in Picayune, Miss., and was struck by how young and unprepared for the NBA he seemed to be. Why, the Indiana Pacers must've been crazy to take this kid so high, I thought. Except that Bender has been a model citizen and has turned into a fine player who will only get better. Perhaps it's because he has a couple of Pacers kindred spirits -- Jermaine O'Neal, straight out of Eau Claire High School in Columbia, S.C., in '96 and Al Harrington, direct from St. Patrick's (N.J.) High in '98 -- with whom to talk things over. You know, prom dates and stuff.

The list goes on. It's too early to make a judgment about Phoenix rookie Amare Stoudemire, but Seattle's Rashard Lewis, Utah's DeShawn Stevenson and Washington's Kwame Brown all look as if they're keepers. We can probably say the same about those two Baby Bulls from the class of '01, too, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.

Even the historical precedents in this area reveal at least mixed results. A troubled fellow (and felon) named Reggie Harding skipped college for the pros way back in '63 and, well, to say he had a checkered career would be an all-world understatement. After five mediocre seasons with Detroit, Chicago and Indiana of the ABA, Harding was shot dead during an argument at age 30. It's doubtful that college would've changed his fate; it's doubtful anything would've changed ol' Reg's fate. Eleven years after Harding turned pro, Bill Willoughby came out of Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood. N.J. Willoughby never lived up to his advance billing, but he was a good person and stayed around for eight seasons with six teams. Two other high schoolers of Willoughby's era, however, did pretty well -- Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins and Hall of Famer Moses Malone.

There have, of course, been high school failures in the modern era, such as Korleone Young and Leon Smith. And certainly the transition from high school ball to the pros is never seamless and is sometimes quite difficult, even if it is ultimately successful. Heck, even Kobe didn't have it easy in his first couple of seasons. But the NBA has learned a lot about how to handle its callow crop and it is still learning. Players like Chandler, Curry and Brown have assistant coaches charged specifically with monitoring their development. They also have off-the-court advisors, chefs, drivers, tutors, not to mention support people from the league office. If such a system contributes to the narcissistic entitlement of athletes, well, so be it; it's better than letting the youngsters flail away on their own and crash.

Here's a related point to consider, too: A token stopover in college, even a first-rate college, does not guarantee a trouble-free transition to the pros, witness the two-year stays of Rasheed Wallace at North Carolina and Allen Iverson at Georgetown. Derrick Coleman completed a four-year run at Syracuse a decade ago, but he's a perennial underachiever and last week served a one-game suspension stemming from a DUI arrest over the summer. The list goes on.

There is probably no unifying principle that can be applied here except maybe this one: Good guys will turn out to be good guys and knuckleheads will turn out to be knuckleheads, no matter what their background. But do you want a pop psychology stab as to why college-skipping players are doing better than one might expect? Try this one:

The "Big Man On Campus" archetype is as alive and well as ever. A player hangs around campus and everyone -- Sports Illustrated, ESPN, his coaches, the entire coed population -- tells him how wonderful he is, and his segregated lifestyle (own dorm, own eating facility, first-class travel) reinforces the opinion that he's something special. But leap to the pros, young man, and learn about humility. Your teammates are better than you. (Ask Kwame Brown.) Your teammates and your coach are hollering at you. (Ask Kwame Brown.) The newspapers are ripping you. (Ask Kwame Brown). It's sink or swim, and, if you've got what it takes inside, you swim.

I still feel bad that a lot of these guys will miss the college experience, which is irreplaceable. But I see a lot of swimmers out there.

Ragga's comments:

I was highly against it when the influx first started (mainly because Darius Miles skipped St. John's to hit the league). But it seems to me that if coached and observed the right way, quite a few can make it and thrive.

Any thoughts?

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its better for some players to make the jump early. but there are 2 problems w/ that as I see it.

1. college ball is a great way to learn team hoops. Most of these guys that are phenoms in high school won't match up as well on the college level. College is a better gauge of talent than h.s. and an invaluable learning tool.

2. Teams taking these H.S. kids never know what they are going to get. An 18 year old kid at 6'5" coming into the league may be 4 inches taller and 30 lbs heavier by the final stage of his development. Why waste time training a kid as a two guard if he will be a 3 or maybe even a four by the time he is finished growing?

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in a way jumping staright to the pro'shas its advantadges. by the time thy have 3-4 years inthe pro's they are way ahead of those kids coming out from college.

also, if i'm poor and playing in high school and can make the jump to pro ball i would do it.

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I think it would be better if teams could send their high draft picks to play against each other in the NDBL before coming up. A big problem with all of this is that rosters are getting clogged with 18 and 19 year olds, only about half of whom ever pan out (btw, there were more players who skipped college who went undrafted than those who got drafted at all for the past few years). Essentially, fans in places like Chicago, Denver, Oakland, and LA have to watch their teams really suck for years because their rosters are full of guys who aren't ready to get playing time, precluding them from signing servicable veterans who can at least play some NBA ball. Furthermore, it would allow teams to take chances on players who aren't good enough yet, but could be someday (see Lenny Cooke, Lee Benson, Omar Cook, etc) if they know they can retain their rights while they're sent to the minors.

BTW Ragga, I feel your pain. T-Mac went 5to the NBA over going to USF (my home school, where he signed an early letter of intent), which probably would have made them a top 10 team. On the other hand, he's on my pro team, so I can't bitch too much...

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Originally posted by vicman

in a way jumping staright to the pro'shas its advantadges. by the time thy have 3-4 years inthe pro's they are way ahead of those kids coming out from college.

also, if i'm poor and playing in high school and can make the jump to pro ball i would do it.

yea ur right, i mean everyone says college will open the door to ur future or whatever, but some of these kids have the opportunity to play right now for big money, and they might now have that again in 4 years (injuries, and whatever else can happen)

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Originally posted by mbenzml

yea ur right, i mean everyone says college will open the door to ur future or whatever, but some of these kids have the opportunity to play right now for big money, and they might now have that again in 4 years (injuries, and whatever else can happen)

and the rest of us suffer for it, having to watch bad picks that don't pan out or raw products straight from high school who don't know the true fundamentals of the game and can't handle the change from biggest fish in the small pond to "who the fuck are u" in the real world.

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