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Bosco’s Corner: Something has got to give

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What is going on in the world when a 16-year-old high school junior is considered a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft without having ever played a lick of college ball? LeBron James is his name and he’s coming to an NBA team near you — but not for at least another year.

If I had anything to say about it, however, James and all those like him who skip college would be barred from the NBA, at least until they get a little seasoning in college — or at the very least a prep school.

High schoolers leapfrogging college for the NBA is a trend that has been growing in popularity at an alarming rate and something that just must stop.

Since Kevin Garnett first declared for the NBA Draft straight out of Farragut Academy in Illinois in 1995, no less than 18 high school seniors have followed suit, with only three of those 18 failing to be taken in the actual draft.

I must be missing something. I mean, I know the reality of the world, I know that most of these guys come from impoverished backgrounds, have little interest in pursuing an extended education and can’t wait four years to sign a big-money contract, but this is just getting out of hand. And NBA teams hungry to scoop up the next great talent don’t hesitate to have Commissioner David Stern call out the name of a kid fresh out of his prom tuxedo.

After Garnett declared, three high school players did the same a year later — Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal and Taj McDavid. Tracy McGrady followed in 1997 and four more declared in 1998, led by New Jersey’s Al Harrington. Two came out in each of the next two drafts, but last year saw the most, as six players declared. Of those six, four were taken in the top 10 of the first round, including Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler, the two top overall picks.

This is just bad business all the way around. With the occasional exception, most high schoolers who declare straight for the NBA draft are not ready to make a significant impact on the pro game. These unseasoned players — though rich in talent and promise — do not belong on the same floor as Michael Jordan, who, if you recall, didn’t leave college until after his junior season. Jordan didn’t even make his varsity high school team as a sophomore.

Did you get that? The greatest basketball player in the history of the game didn’t make his varsity high school team as a sophomore. Just this week Redmen.com, an unofficial web site dedicated to St. John’s University athletics, reported that Jermaine Bell, a reclassified high school sophomore set to graduate in 2004, had committed to the Queens school. I mean, really, the kid can’t be more than 16 years old with at least two full years of high school in front of him and he is already a future member of the Red Storm.

Things are quickly spiraling out of control. One look at Omar Cook’s situation points out the problem with alarming clarity.

I did not agree with Cook’s decision last year to leave St. John’s after just one season on the Division I level. It was clear to his coach and most impartial observers that while extremely talented with an uncanny sense for the game, Cook still needed to iron out some things before he was to make the leap, most notably his very erratic outside jumper.

But Cook, based on some strong performances at pre-draft camps, went forward with declaring for the NBA draft, leaving St. John’s behind. It turned out to be a very costly decision.

Instead of being gobbled up in the first round, like so many expected — including Cook — he was taken with the third pick of the second round by Orlando and summarily traded to Denver. The Nuggets cut Cook before the season began.

A brief stay with the Dallas Mavericks ended with Cook being cut again. Now Cook finds himself in the NBA’s developmental league, newly formed for players not quite ready to make the jump to the pros.

Isn’t that what college basketball was for? Had he waited just one more year, surely he would have moved up three slots in the draft and garnered a three-year guaranteed contract. Oh well.

Two years ago a good friend of Cook’s, Darius Miles, made a verbal commitment to St. John’s only to declare himself for the draft before ever donning an SJU uniform. And let me tell you, the hardcore St. John’s fans would not let the Red Storm brain trust hear the end of it — how the school could not land the big recruit.

Who can? The best high school players in the country don’t even want to be bothered with college these days, not with millions of dollars waiting for them when they sign on the dotted line.

This trend weakens both the NBA and the collegiate ranks. Men not even old enough to drink legally are polluting the pro game when they are not ready to make the jump, while draining Division I schools of their precious talent at the same time.

It’s all about money in the end. A free education just isn’t enough anymore to entice the best to go to school instead of getting a job. If the NCAA doesn’t act to change this, things are only going to get worse. The NBDL will soon become the minor leagues with a team in every other city in the country, while colleges will struggle to keep the few good players they can entice.

I know that’s probably being overly dramatic. There’s nothing better than a well-played college basketball game and I hope it always stays that way. But some of these kids don’t know what they are missing by going straight to the pros.

I’m sure the millions of dollars makes up for it though. Right? Wrong.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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