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Does Brandon Jennings = Jackie Robinson

Hoops fans are currently fixated on the upcoming NBA Draft. But the biggest piece of basketball news this week may well be contained in this NYT column from William Rhoden. Rhoden writes about Brandon Jennings, an extremely talented 18-year-old point guard who, in compliance with the NBA's "one-and-done" rule, was slated to attend the University of Arizona next fall but is now toying with the idea of playing professionally in Europe instead:

“I think people just develop better over there,” he said. “You’re playing professional ball for a year, you’re playing against guys who are older than you. I’ll constantly be playing basketball 24-7. I don’t have to worry about school and things like that.”

On the surface, that sounds troubling. In reality, forcing talented players who otherwise would be drafted to spend a sham year in college does not advance higher education. The N.C.A.A., the N.B.A. and the union created a class of hired guns.

“For a person that plays ball, our dream is to get to the N.B.A.,” Jennings said. “College is like, O.K., we’ll do this one year, but our real mind-set is that we’re trying to get to the league, take care of our families. They’re making us do college so we feel like, Let’s do one year, go to class half the time.”

I actaully have a piece in the new print issue about the man who gave Jennings the idea to look overseas, Sonny Vaccaro. Vaccaro is largely responsbile for (or guilty of, depending on your point of view) the commercialization of college sports. But, in the last year or so, he's become an outspoken advocate for reform. One of his reform ideas has been to encourage American high school phenoms to blaze a new trail to the NBA by playing overseas for a year rather than in college before declaring for the NBA draft; but it's been a tough sell. Vaccaro told me that, in trying to find a young American player to take him up on his idea, he "need[ed] Jackie Robinson." In Brandon Jennings, Vaccaro might have found him.

--Jason Zengerle