Baller Mind Frame

Why hasn’t anyone pulled a Brandon Jennings since Brandon Jennings?

Brandon Jennings Why hasnt anyone pulled a Brandon Jennings since Brandon Jennings?

We sports fan/alysts love to put ourselves in the size 15 shoes of young stars and imagine how we’d create the most immaculate legacy possible. Ever since Brandon Jennings made his leap from Oak Hill Prep to Italy to the NBA lottery, my own hoops fantasy has been to do it like Brandon Jennings, but better. It consists of me (a LeBron-caliber player) leaving high school to go hoop in the Phillipines, winning the league MVP and a title while my Nike shoe deal and team contract allow me to live like a Polynesian king for a year. America suddenly has a fetish for Philippino hoops; so ESPN works out a deal to televise my games. There’s already an NBA vet (think T-Mac) on the team to help me with the language barrier and learning curve. After a year, I put my name in for the draft. Nike gives me a huge bonus for being a lottery pick and I go on to a long and healthy career.

Unfortunately for Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler and prep stars considering a year of overseas professional ball, my fantasy and their reality didn’t quite align.

~ WHAT WENT WRONG ~

Despite the perceived glamor of being an 18-year-old instant millionaire living in Rome, Jennings had a rough go of it early on. He inked $1.2 million and $2 million deals with Lottomatica Roma and Under Armour, respectively, but said he almost never got paid on time. He was able to move his mother and half-brother out to live with him, but still felt pangs of homesickness.

In an email back home, he reminded high school stars considering making the leap of the reality that they might not mesh with their teams overseas. “They treat me like a kid. They don’t see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. Some nights you’ll play a lot; some nights you won’t play at all.” He went on to say, “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.” He did concede that the experience made him mature quickly. The year abroad didn’t seem to ruffle the feathers of too many scouts, as he was taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Jeremy Tyler, who at the time was considered a prospect with a Greg Oden-esque upside, had similar issues when he forwent his senior year of high school to hoop in Israel. He made it 10 games into the season for Maccabi Haifa, racking up 21 total points and one halftime locker room walk-out before he quit the team. Teammates and coaches say he was immature and arrogant during his short tenure.

He went on to play for a year with the Tokyo Apache before entering the draft and being selected in the second round. Ever since, Tyler has oscillated between three NBA teams and D-League affiliates. He landed in New York this offseason and impressed in Summer League, but his recent foot surgery could prevent him from making the New York Knicks 15-man roster. At the ripe age of 22, scouts are optimistic about his future, but concerns about his attitude and maturity still resound. The consensus is that he’d find himself in a much better place had he stayed in high school and pursued an NCAA scholarship.

Things obviously worked out better for Jennings than Tyler, but there are a couple of common factors that lead to each player’s struggle. In both cases, there was a clear disconnect between the players’ expectations and the actions of their coaches. Neither player got the minutes they thought they deserved and each of them struggled with not being the focal point on offense when they did get on the floor. Both players also underestimated just how drastic of a transition it would be for their lifestyles. To make the jump more feasible for future NBA prospects, a few things need to happen first.

~ IF IT HAPPENS, THIS IS HOW ~

1) One of the NBA’s “global ambassors” (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Manu Ginobili) and their shoe sponsors (Nike, Nike, Nike, Nike) set up a high school hoops tournament overseas to excite a potential fanbase about American players and to get prep stars excited about the idea of playing overseas. Under Armour has done this in Italy, but without the All-Star ambassador.
2) The player, the shoe sponsor, and an investment group buy out a flailing Euro team.
3) The NBA star/ambassador and a pioneering power agent do the work of convincing two or three lottery picks to join one another abroad for one year. The players are guaranteed minutes fat paychecks paid on-time, substantial playing time, a lush, shared apartment and a Nike shoe deal.
4) There is so much interest in the players, big American networks would be stupid not to broadcast their games.
5) Come June, the players are more than ready for pre-draft workouts and the rigors of an NBA season.

Everyone wins. The retiring NBA ambassador stays relevant and keeps making money. The power agent gets his cut. The shoe company gets to lock up their future star sooner. The player gets friends, mentors, structure, media glory, and timely paychecks.

It is hard to estimate the likelihood of this vision of a prep-to-abroad-to-NBA path coming to fruition. Perhaps a good indicator is the case of high school youtube sensation Aquille Carr. After nearly signing with Brandon Jennings’ former team, Lottomatica Roma, and then Tracy McGrady’s former Chinese team, Carr opted to enter his name into the D-League draft. McGrady was apparently involved in the negotiations, ensuring that Carr would receive ample playing time if he signed.

It will be interesting to see if comissioner-elect Adam Silver continues to develop and promote the D-League as an alternative for 18-year-olds who want to skip college in favor of paychecks and a more demanding basketball schedule. David Stern apparently wants to continue to expand the D-League so that each pro team has its own affiliate.

Still one must wonder how many players are going to be willing to enter a draft that could send them to Newark, Delaware; Bixby, Oklahoma; or Fort Wayne, Indiana when Rome and Barcelona and Athens start calling.

Image courtesy of GAMEFACE-PHOTOS/Flickr

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