NBA Youth

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

If any year was proof positive that high school players heading straight to the NBA was a good idea, it was this one. LeBron James was the League's MVP. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are the superstars of the two teams in the finals. And it was only a year ago that Kevin Garnett, 2004's MVP, led his Celtics to the Championship.

Yes, we can dig up examples of high school players who skipped college who have not fulfilled their hype in the pros. Martell Webster comes to mind. But the fears of young men not yet groomed by higher education to handle themselves in the big-money world of the NBA and vulnerable to injuries because their bodies aren't yet developed to withstand the rigors of professional play and emotionally immature and thus left to poor judgment decisions have not been substantiated. Aside from his glaring faux pas in not shaking hands with the Magic after being beaten by them for the finals, LeBron James generally comports himself with great aplomb. He is a professional on the court, a gentleman off the court. It stretches the imagination to conjecture that he would have had a better education on some college campus than he's had so far as multimillionaire entrepreneur, media spokesman, and league icon.

After Amare Stoudemire was the only player drafted out of high school in 2002, five teenagers went pro in 2003. Then a record-setting eight high schoolers were selected in the first round in 2004, which also marked the third time in four years that a prep player was the Number One pick in the NBA draft (Kwame Brown in 2001, LeBron in 03' and Dwight Howard in 04').

The youngsters have on the whole been a big success. Nevertheless, NBA commissioner David Stern instituted an age minimum. Beginning in 2006, a player must be 19 and one year removed from high school before he can be drafted. In the 2005 draft, the last to allow the leap frog jump over college, a record nine high school players were taken. But ten years after Kevin Garnett ushered in the modern preps-to-pros craze in 1995, an era was over. Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were all produced in that era. It's been an era that has impacted the NBA in a powerful way and it's a shame that it was only a decade long.

It's been a good run but not only is it over, David Stern wants to raise the NBA entry age again, from 19 to 20.

I could at least listen to an argument in favor of the logic that a young person benefits in all kinds of ways from the college experience. But the rule has nothing to do with college, college academics, college campus life, college coaching mentors, college training habits, college time management. The rule states that you can't enter the NBA until you are removed one year from high school and have turned 19. A kid could technically sit around home eating doughnuts and playing video games for the year after high school and that would be ok by the NBA standards. What has happened, however, is what is called "one and done." A high schooler who is clearly focused on the NBA but must wait a year winds up in college for one express year. He knows he'll only be there a year; his college coaches know he'll only be there a year. He takes the scholarship from someone who truly wants the college experience. He helps the school to a winning season but doesn't serve to build the program with a four-year stay.

Frankly, I don't understand the Stern decision. These current stars, the former teenagers who came straight from high school to the pros, have proven that for the few capable of it, skipping college was the right move for both them and the NBA.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Banner image: Tracy McGrady from last season. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images



Diana Nyad