BASKETBALL Prep stars now look to college instead of NBA
The league's new rule forces them to wait at least one year.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Vernon Macklin thought his toughest decision as a high school senior would be choosing whether to play college basketball or jump to the NBA. At 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, Macklin has the athleticism and potential that make pro scouts drool.
But after the NBA adopted a new eligibility rule last month, just one question remained: Which school would he pick?
"I probably would have looked at the NBA," Macklin said, "but now I've got to go to college."
Macklin, of I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, Va., is among the first class of prep players to deal with the NBA's new requirement -- waiting one year after high school before entering the draft.
At the Nike All-America Camp, where about 120 of the nation's top high schoolers try to impress college and pro scouts annually, the change is obvious.
Only a handful of NBA scouts signed this year's check-in board rather than the dozens that had become routine over the past decade. Players who once were peppered with questions about being the next Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant now answered queries about their college choices.
Focused on colleges
In hotel rooms, players said the conversations included some talk about the NBA but focused primarily on different schools around the country.
For Macklin, the change has forced him to re-evaluate his future.
"I don't have a list of schools right now," he said. "I'm starting over."
Reactions to the change range from disappointment to relief.
Some, like Jeffrey Jordan -- Michael Jordan's son -- think players should still make their own choices. Others, like Jonnie West -- Jerry West's son -- believe the NBA did the right thing.
Opinions hardly matter now, though.
Macklin and Spencer Hawes, a 6-11, 215-pound big man from Seattle, were considered two of the top candidates to make the jump -- as Hawes' high school teammate, Martell Webster, did this year. Portland took Webster with the No. 6 pick in last month's draft.
"You'd like to see them let you make the decision for yourself," Hawes said. "But even though you want kids to make the right decision, some don't, so the league had to intervene."
What options remain?
Some consider prep schools
Tywon Lawson, who played at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and is considered by some to be the nation's top prep point guard, said he has talked with at least four players who are considering prep school -- including some who may attend for academic reasons.
Others suspect players will opt for junior college, Europe or the NBDL -- a choice that could continue to hide their weaknesses and create a mysterious aura heading into draft day.
"I think a lot of kids might take the prep school route, even some who didn't think they were going to the pros," Hawes said. "That way you don't get exposed and it will make you [look] that much better."
College coaches also have another predicament.
National Association of Basketball Coaches executive director Jim Haney said he proposed a three-year commitment, following the NFL model which was upheld in the Maurice Clarett case. Baseball, too, requires players to wait three years after high school to re-enter the draft if they choose to enroll in college.
Gamble on one-year recruit
When the coaches realized their initial proposal would be rejected, they sought a 20-year-old age limit. Instead they were left with a rule that could force some coaches to gamble on a one-year recruit to remain competitive.
Arizona coach Lute Olson believes short-timers are detrimental to programs that are trying to plan for the future.
Few coaches, though, anticipate top players fleeing for other leagues.
"The good thing is that the kids may get there and realize maybe they aren't ready," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I think a lot of kids think they'll be in college one or two years and then leave, and then they realize they aren't ready. So maybe it will be beneficial in the long run."
While many players acknowledge they could be enticed to skip the NBA's big bucks and savor the college environment, some believe the NBA's new rule simply isn't fair.
"When it first came out, there was a lot of talk about it," Lawson said. "People were wondering whether there would be any exceptions or whatever.
"I don't think I'm ready for the NBA. But some people, like [Greg] Oden or [Kevin] Durant are good enough to go to the NBA and might get burned a little bit if they go to college and get hurt or something."