Jennings the new face of preps-to-pros

Updated: November 13, 2008, 10:22 AM ET
By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy |

When Kevin Garnett went pro out of high school in 1995, he ignited the preps-to-pros movement.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jennings
Kelly Kline/ESPN RISEBrandon Jennings has taken his game to Italy rather than playing at Arizona.

In the next three drafts, a combined four high schoolers were taken in the first round. Then in 2001, four of the first 10 selections came from the prep ranks.

But the NBA closed the floodgates in 2005 by enacting a rule that mandated draft-eligible players to be 19 years old and at least a year removed from high school graduation.

Three years later, a new trailblazer has arrived. Brandon Jennings, a 2008 graduate of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), opted to prepare for the 2009 NBA Draft by playing professionally in Italy rather than going to Arizona.

One of the major questions facing high school hoops this year is whether or not Jennings'move will start a movement the way Garnett's did.

While most top players express little interest now, it remains to be seen how they'll feel in six months, especially if Jennings has a big year.

Studying Abroad?

When Brandon Jennings elected to play in Italy rather than at the University of Arizona, he became the new face of the preps-to-pros movement. For more on Jennings' Euro-trip check out his ESPN The Magazine video blog.

"I don't want to go to Europe, man," says Sickles (Tampa, Fla.) power forward John Henson, the No. 3 senior in the ESPNU 100. "Why would I want to go to Europe if I could stay over here and play basketball?" One reason is money. Jennings, who already has an apparel deal with Under Armour, is slated to earn more than $1 million in salary and endorsements this year.

The big uncertainty surrounding Jennings is whether being out of sight, out of mind will hurt his draft stock. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant saw their draft positions and marketability explode thanks to big performances in front of millions on the college stage.

"If [Jennings is] at Arizona killing on TV, he's going to come in with a lot more hype," says Henson. "And hype equals high draft pick."

Among those who may consider Jennings' path next spring are Fairfax (Los Angeles, Calif.) forward Renardo Sidney and Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) guard Lance Stephenson, rated Nos. 5 and 7 in the ESPNU 100.

Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) swingman Jordan Hamilton fits the profile of a preps-to-passport candidate. The No. 8 senior in the ESPNU 100 regularly IMs with Jennings. Plus, Hamilton's older brother, Gary, plays professionally in Germany.

Regardless, Hamilton has committed to Texas and doesn't plan on changing his mind. Of course, that doesn't mean others won't follow Jennings' lead.

"I think a couple guys will go over there,"Hamilton says. "If they go over there to get better and not just for the money, it will be a good thing for them."

Jennings agrees.

"Don't come over here with an attitude," he says. "Be ready to work hard, and your main focus should be getting better. The money is good, everyone knows that. But make sure you're 100 percent sure about it."

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.