Too young to play?

Debate rages over prep stars entering NBA

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2005

 

  South Kent's (Conn.) Andray Blatche (40) celebrates as his team 80-76 triple-overtime win over Houston Gulf Shores, 80-76 during the Shop 'n Save/KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, in this Dec. 9, 2004 photo. Blatche believes it would be a good idea for the NBA to raise the minimum age to 20. He just doesn't think it's a good idea for him, sinche he will be entering this June's NBA draft. AP Photo/James A. Finley

South Kent's (Conn.) Andray Blatche (40) celebrates as his team 80-76 triple-overtime win over Houston Gulf Shores, 80-76 during the Shop 'n Save/KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, in this Dec. 9, 2004 photo. Blatche believes it would be a good idea for the NBA to raise the minimum age to 20. He just doesn't think it's a good idea for him, sinche he will be entering this June's NBA draft.

AP Photo/James A. Finley

NEW YORK — Andray Blatche of South Kent Prep in Connecticut believes it would be a good idea for the NBA to raise the minimum age to 20. He just doesn't think it's a good idea for him.

Blatche will be entering this June's NBA draft, and his performance — 26 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks — in Saturday night's Jordan Classic high school All-Star game likely left a positive impression on the numerous NBA scouts in attendance.

But prep stars Blatche, Louis Williams, Martell Webster, Gerald Green, Monta Ellis and others could become the last group of high schoolers to have the choice of choosing college or the pros.

With the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expiring June 30 — two days after the draft, commissioner David Stern is pushing hard in labor talks for having the age limit raised to 20. Union director Billy Hunter has said publicly that the issue is negotiable, leading many to assume a change is likely.

''I don't think it's a bad idea. I think it's a good idea as a matter of fact,'' said Blatche, who would like to be drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats and is currently projected as a mid to late first-round pick. ''It didn't (impact my decision). If you're ready to go, it's different. The time is now, you take it.''

Under current NBA rules, a U.S. player's high school class must have graduated in order for him to become eligible for the draft, while international players must turn 18 before the draft in order to be eligible.

Stern's new system would make greater use of the National Basketball Development League, using it as more of a traditional minor league system in which players not yet ready to contribute to their NBA clubs could be sent down to the so-called D-League.

Union officials have said Stern regards the minimum age as a major issue. And although many players are philosophically uncomfortable with the change, the union could agree to an increase if the league makes significant economic concessions in the new collective bargaining agreement.

''It's going to hurt some of the kids in high school who are NBA-bound. Next year, there's Greg Oden (of Lawrence North H.S. in Indianapolis), who's ready to go out of high school right now, and the following year so will O.J. Mayo (of Cincinnati's North College Hill H.S.),'' said Webster, a Seattle prepster who has yet to decide whether he'll enter the draft or attend Washington. ''If that rule gets passed, they've got to go to college for two years, but the law is the law. We'll see.''

Last year, eight high school seniors were among the first 19 picks, including overall No. 1 choice Dwight Howard, and the last two winners of the NBA's Rookie of the Year award (LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire) were drafted straight out of high school.

At this year's All-Star game, there were seven players — Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal, Rashard Lewis, Stoudemire and James — who made the jump directly from the preps to the pros.

O'Neal has been one of the most vocal opponents of raising the minimum age, which hasn't changed in the three decades since Spencer Haywood successfully challenged the NBA's old age limit rules.

''As a black guy, you kind of think that's the reason why it's coming up. You don't hear about it in baseball or hockey. To say you have to be 20, 21 to get in the league, it's unconstitutional. If I can go to the U.S. Army and fight the war at 18, why can't you play basketball for 48 minutes?'' O'Neal said earlier this month.

But the flip side of that argument, often cited by Stern, is that too many young urban Americans are looking at the NBA as a viable avenue — which it often is not — to financial security for their families and a quick path to stardom for themselves.

Caught in the crossfire are players such as Williams, a 6-foot-2 point guard from South Gwinnett High School in Georgia who will enter the draft because he does not want to possibly have to wait two more years to become eligible again.

''It played a little bit into my decision, not a whole bunch like a lot of other people. But I've always said you can't put an age limit on talent,'' Williams said. ''If you put an age limit on talent, the NBA misses out on a guy like LeBron James who is extremely marketable and made a lot of money for the NBA and put the entertainment level back in basketball.''

The age limit will be discussed again in the days ahead, with the league and the union possibly going back to the bargaining table prior to the league's Board of Governors meeting Thursday and Friday.



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