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Don't keep best high schoolers out of NBA


April 26, 2005
There has been plenty of talk about NBA commissioner David Stern's pushing hard for an age limit that would require players to be at least 20 years old to be drafted, and he has been getting plenty of opposition from the NBA players union. But the word is they're starting to listen.

James Lebron
Even in high school, LeBron James drew comparisons to MJ and Magic.
Hoops at the highest level is hurting with so many young, unprepared kids coming into the league. And college basketball is being hurt by talented players' not coming to campus. The passion and love that kids play with in college is a special thing, because the school's name on the front of the jersey means more than the player's name on the back.

There has to be some kind of plan to get talented high schoolers into college programs, but there is a problem with the flat 20-year age limit: How do you deny a phenom, someone like LeBron James, the opportunity to make a living?

Think about the numbers LeBron posted last year as a rookie, when he won the Rookie of the Year award as a 19-year-old (when he started the season, he was 18). He had a super season in his second year, too, which would have been his sophomore year in college.

I challenge you to name a 20-year-old who has ever been better. LeBron is definitely the best I've ever seen at his age.

Would you deny someone like Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez or Venus and Serena Williams the chance to turn pro and earn a living before turning 20? No, because we live in America, and the right to do what you desire is one of the great gifts we have in this country. It's all about freedom, man!

With that said, let me present my three-phase Vitale Bald Dome Index plan that would solve the problem and bring some consistency to both college and the pros:

Phase One of my VBDI plan: Appoint a blue-ribbon panel, comprised of all NBA general managers, to evaluate the high-school talent. The panel would narrow the group of high-school stars entering the draft to the three, four or even five players who would be sure-fire lottery picks.

If guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Amare Stoudemire are out there, don't deny them the chance to play in the NBA.

In Phase Two, the players identified by the panel would have the right to choose to either enter the draft or go to college. If the panel classifies them as talented enough, let them go pro.

Once they stepped onto college campuses as freshmen, they would be required to stay for three full years, as is the case in college baseball.
All the other high schoolers – all those who are not identified by the blue-ribbon panel – would enter Phase Three of my plan: Once they stepped onto college campuses as freshmen, they would be required to stay for three full years, as is the case in college baseball. After that third year, they would again be eligible for the NBA draft.

That three-year requirement would also apply to all Phase Two high schoolers who choose college over the NBA.

In baseball, there is great unison between MLB, the players union and the NCAA. That's what makes it work, and it could work for basketball too.

This would be a perfect remedy, my friends, for the dilemma facing the game we all love. It would let the very best of the best have their chance in the NBA, and it would send plenty of great players to college. At the same time, it would reduce the number of basketball vagabonds who declare for the NBA draft only to go undrafted and then wander from one lesser pro league to another.

There is no doubt that David Stern has a terrific love for basketball and has done a perfect job of selling and marketing the pro game, even overseas. But there are plenty of people, including yours truly, who love the college game just as much.

My plan would go a long way toward improving the efficiency and level of play, in both college and the NBA, for the game that means so much to all of us.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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