John Smallwood: Players like Kentucky's Noel are not NBA concerns

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel is a victim of the system that requires him to go to college for a year.ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kentucky's Nerlens Noel is a victim of the system that requires him to go to college for a year.ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: February 17, 2013

I feel bad for University of Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel. He's getting the short end of the stick.

In a different world, he would be like Sixers

center Andrew Bynum - getting paid millions

of guaranteed dollars despite being unable to play for some NBA team.

Instead, the torn ACL injury in his left knee he

suffered in a NCAA game on Tuesday has put Noel's future earning power as a professional basketball

player at risk.

In a different world, one before the 2005 NBA's collective bargaining agreement with the players association, Noel might have still torn his ACL, but he most likely would be an NBA rookie lottery pick playing on a contract that guaranteed him around $7 million to $10 million whether he never played another game.

I knew as soon as Noel went down that one of the big discussions would be about why he was forced to play one season at Kentucky anyway.

Why should the NBA be allowed to keep a talented player who likely would have been a top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA draft from making a living playing basketball for even one season?

The simple answer is because the league and players agreed in their CBA that all players eligible for the draft must be at least 19 years of age and 1 year removed from high school during the calendar year of the draft.

Noel wasn't. The 18-year-old decided to play at Kentucky at least until he became eligible.

That's just the way it works for players, and that's the way it will remain, possibly until 2022 when the current CBA expires.

A lot of people don't think that's fair, especially to a top prospect such as Noel who had his worst nightmare realized when his knee buckled.

Honestly, the fairness of this depends on your perspective, and a lot of opinions sway toward the player.

I'm with the NBA on this. I don't see why the NBA should be forced to let go of its collectively bargained right to set an age eligibility limit because players like Noel want to receive guaranteed contracts worth millions of dollars as soon as they get out of high school.

The NBA is a multibillion-dollar global corporation. Its responsibility is to establish the rules and guidelines it thinks gives it the best opportunity to maximize its prospects.

The restrictions come when those rules have to be collectively bargained with the unions it deals with-most prominently, the National Basketball Players Association.

A lot of people complain how the age restriction has created a destructive climate in college basketball in which top players spend one season on campus and then declare for the draft.

That's an argument worthy of discussions, but it is not the NBA's problem. The overall health of the NCAA, March Madness and college basketball is not the concern of the NBA.

And, frankly, until a player enters the NBA, the health of that player isn't the concern of the NBA.

Although this is what it has become, the NBA is not supposed to be a training ground for teenagers with high ceilings but weak bases in the fundamentals of basketball.

The NBA is supposed to be a place to see the best basketball in the world. Players who make it there should be expected to be able to play immediately.

It is bad business for the NBA when virtually every draft pick is now considered a 3- to 4-year developmental project.

The argument supporting the players, especially when you see what happened to Noel, is complicated. I don't think a kid who is determined to stake his future on the minimal chance that he will become a NBA star should be forced to go to college.

He does not have to.

Next to soccer, basketball is the most popular spectator sport in the world. Professional basketball leagues exist on every continent but Antarctica.

Many pay a lot more money than the typical college scholarship.

Unless top high school prospects truly want the college experience, I can't see why any of them wouldn't follow the lead of Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who was subject to the NBA age restriction when he graduated from Oak Hill (Va.) Academy in 2008.

Despite being heavily criticized, Jennings, who was rated the No. 1 high school player by several publications, turned down a scholarship to the University of Arizona and signed with Lottomatica Roma, of the Italian Lega A.

Jennings got a $1.65 million in guaranteed income from Lottomatica and signed a $2 million endorsement deal with Under Armour.

In 27 Lega A games, Jennings averaged 5.5 points, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals, while shooting 35.1 percent and averaging 17 minutes a game. In 16 Euroleague games, he averaged 7.6 points and 1.6 assists, while shooting 38.7 percent.

Making more than $3.5 million in Europe instead of playing in college hurt Jennings' status in the 2009 NBA draft so much that he was selected 10th overall by the Bucks.

Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans (fifth overall by Sacramento) and USC freshman DeMar DeRozan (ninth by Toronto) were the only "one-and-done" college players drafted higher than Jennings.

UCLA point guard Jrue Holiday (17th by the Sixers) and Ohio State center Byron Mullens (24th, by Dallas) were the other college freshmen drafted.

Coaches and fans of college basketball might not like it, but Jennings set the example for all high school players who would be first-round picks but instead have to go to college.

I feel bad for Nerlens Noel, but the truth is, he simply made a bad business decision by going to Kentucky instead of playing professionally overseas for a year before becoming eligible for the NBA draft.



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