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College still has share of appeal

Though Jennings took his game to Europe, many elite players are balking at the notion.

July 25, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Those who thought that star guard Brandon Jennings might start a trend when he opted to bypass college and play in Europe for a year before entering the NBA draft can think again.

The idea of going none and done to satisfy NBA rules that players must be 19 and a year removed from high school graduation to be drafted didn't seem to appeal to several elite high school players competing in tournaments throughout Las Vegas this week.

"I want to go to college. I want to enjoy that experience," said Compton Dominguez High senior standout Jordan Hamilton, who included USC on a lengthy list of college finalists. "My brother went to the University of Miami and he said he had a great experience, so I plan on going to college."

Jennings, who as of early this month had not attained academic clearance to enroll at Arizona, his college choice, agreed last week to a three-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma of the Italian League. His advisors said that would allow him to showcase his considerable skills against top competition for one year before moving on to the NBA.

John Henson, a 6-foot-10 senior forward from Round Rock, Texas, who has committed to North Carolina, said he feared teenagers playing professionally overseas would have their flaws quickly exposed by veteran players.

"You're playing against seasoned pros," Henson said. "That's basically like jumping to the NBA."

Henson said he preferred to have a taste of "the college experience and the American spotlight. . . . We can't even really watch the European games" on television.

USC Coach Tim Floyd said college players benefit from exposure that their European counterparts couldn't match.

"The system that's in place, even though it's not perfect for colleges right now, has proven to be very effective with kids as far as the visibility that they received, which has led to tremendous marketing dollars," Floyd said. "If they're over in Europe, I don't know that that's going to translate to marketing dollars because the masses have not seen them [like] Greg Oden and Kevin Durant."

Asked if he could understand the allure of playing in Europe for a year, Floyd said, "Not necessarily, no. Being away from your family, speaking another language, playing against 30-year-old men versus 18- to 22-year-old players. . . . Until this doesn't work for the young people who have come in, I can't see the appeal of wanting my child to go over there unless we were in dire financial straits or I couldn't get in [to college].

"All these decisions should get down to risk-reward, and the risk has not proven to be there for the kids that have come into the college level."

Still, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said that Jennings could become a trendsetter like Moses Malone, who in 1974 became one of the first players to go straight from high school to the professional ranks.

"It's going to be a viable option depending on if it works for Jennings and it works for the team," Greenberg said. "And I don't blame the kids. If they're really not interested in going to college and they want to start their professional career, there's nothing wrong with it."

John Wall, a senior point guard from Raleigh, N.C., who has emerged as one of the top players this week at the Reebok Summer Championships, called playing in Europe "a last resort" that he would consider only if he didn't qualify academically for college.

"I think my mom would be disappointed and my dad, who passed away, would be very disappointed," Wall said. "God told him that I would finish school."

Renardo Sidney acknowledged the thought of going to Europe "entered my mind" in the wake of Jennings' decision, but the L.A. Fairfax High star said he still believed "it's a good thing to play one year of college ball, to be a kid."

His father and club coach, Renardo Sr., said, "At this point, college is right for my kid. I like college. I went to college. Going to class, holding a girl's books, there's nothing like it."

Henson said there's only one way his parents would let him spend a year in Europe.

"If it's $20 million or more," he said, "they would let me go."

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Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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ON LATIMES.COM

Basketblogging: Let Ben Bolch keep you up on all the on- and off-court action from the Las Vegas basketball tournaments in his dispatches on the Varsity Times blog.

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