European Professional Basketball—Class Is In Session

By Brandon Robinson

Ring, Ring, Ring! Do you remember that final bell ringing on Friday around 3:00pm in high school? That day was usually the day when you and some of your buddies would go to the park and play basketball. Maybe you were the one who “took the competition to school.”

Taking people to school is something that prep school products Jeremy Tyler and Brandon Jennings have been doing during their middle and high school careers. Brandon Jennings, a talented point guard, from Los Angeles, played his high school basketball career at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Jennings, whose game resembles Kenny Anderson and Allen Iverson, was slated to attend the University of Arizona as a freshman this season.

Unfortunately, last summer, numerous red flags were raised in Jennings SAT’s scores: too low to become a student-athlete at the University of Arizona. “He was a big time recruit. Arizona could have used him, says Ian Eagle, sportscaster for CBS, in a recent phone interview. “Perhaps if Jennings was there Lute would still be there,” he continued.

Jennings was in a dilemma. You see, he could not just enter the NBA after graduating his senior year of high school, either. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement states that in order for a player to be drafted, he must be a year removed from his senior class. Brandon was only a few months removed from his high school class. What would he do?

“Brandon had no choice because of the circumstances that happened,” says Jamar Nutter, an international basketball player who played professionally with the Bakken Bears from Denmark in the first league Danish League and the S D Portland Gmund in Germany Pro B League.

Jennings consulted with Sonny Vaccaro, a long time sports marketing executive with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Sonny’s insight and expertise has helped guide the careers of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. “Sonny is the engine behind all this, he is set in getting rid of the age requirement in the NBA,” says ESPN senior writer Chris Broussard, in a recent phone interview. “He does not think it’s fair, and nobody is going to Europe at least without Sonny,” he added.

“Well, it’s very obvious; this is sort of the beginning,” said columnist Jemele Hill, in a phone interview from her office in Orlando. “This situation is forcing people to be creative, people will always find a way to get around it,” she said. “The bottom line is that the NBA and basketball is a worldwide game now,” added Hill

Jennings is currently on the roster of Virtus Roma, a team in Italy. During his time “abroad,” he has had a tough transition, but it seems it will be all worth it. “I think a kid going to Europe will be more prepared than going to college for a year. Playing in Europe professionally is more difficult than playing division one basketball,” said Broussard.

In a recent phone interview at his home in California, Sonny Vacarro expressed similar sentiment: “He went to Rome and practiced with older and stronger people four to five hours every day,” he said. “It makes you a better professional. He’s not playing against kids, he’s playing against grown men,” Vaccarro added.

Recently, Jeremy Tyler, a 17-year-old high school junior, committed to the University of Louisville for the recruiting class of 2010. A couple of weeks ago, however, he decided to forego his senior year of high school and move to Europe to play basketball and develop his game. There are many mixed feelings about this decision. It is the common belief amongst basketball purists that a kid his age should be worried about the prom, rather than playing professional basketball.

“The same people who say that are the same people I’d like to ask about their feelings about how they feel about the country sending kids to Iraq,” says Vaccaro. “Does the kid who fires a gun need to be prepared? He wasn’t prepared to shoot a gun,” he continued.

By no means is anyone advocating firing a gun. God bless those who serve our country in Iraq. Perhaps there is such a thing as a right place, and right time. “The situation has to fit well,” says Bomani Jones, an on-air sports personality for WRBZ and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. “Tyler has an uncle and dad in his support system able to check in on him while he’s overseas,” he continued. “For a lot of these kids, they may only have one parent in the household, so they are on their own; the kid has a good support system to help him succeed,” added Jones.

Perhaps we could even label the European training a “basketball study abroad program.” According to the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, “Academic study and travel outside the U.S. is referred to as “Study Abroad.” Additionally, the student might be a part of a four-year international program with the intent to complete a degree at the international university.

“I think it’s a good thing,” says Jamar Nutter.” Players overseas come over here to play, so why not. Education is the evolution of your mind. The test of education is in oneself, says Vaccaro. “I’m a living testament to doing something that I was not prepared for,” he added.

One thing is certainly clear. This idea is becoming more and more popular. “You will see at least one player a year go to Europe, because a). Get some money, b). Get experience, and c). It keeps your name out there and remains part of the mix for scouts,” says Ian Eagle.

One thing is for certain, whether an athlete is dominating on the playground or at the prep school someone will be taken to school. Class is in session gentlemen!