When Magic point guard Brandon Jennings watches the NCAA Tournament, he sees the pomp and pageantry, Dick Vitale yapping incessantly and players bonding for their school. It's then his mind wanders. "Sometimes, I wish I could have had a chance to experience it," he said.
Then Jennings pauses — and it's a pause that encompasses the heart of a great basketball debate.
"But at the time, at 18, broke. ... I had to do what was best for me and my family," he said.
What Jennings did eight years ago was unprecedented.
His preps-to-pros pathway blocked by an NBA rule instituted in 2006, Jennings stunningly bypassed college, heading directly from high school to playing professionally overseas.
Instead of enrolling at the University of Arizona, he signed with Italian club Lottomatica Roma, essentially beating the NBA's one-and-done edict that calls for players to be 19 (or one year removed from his graduating class) to earn a living immediately. The move triggered much discussion over an issue that still haunts the amateur and pro game today.
Basketball should be done with the one-and-done idiocy, of course.
Time to end this farcical set-up.
Even Jennings is on board with making college more than a drive-thru formality.
"I feel like if they want to stop the one-and-done, then I think you should give kids the option to go (to the NBA) out of high school," Jennings said. "And then if they want to go to college, stay two years if one-and-done is such a problem."
Two years in school or turning 20 makes more sense. As an NBA coach, Scott Skiles would love to work with more mature players. But he also believes in the American way.
"From a coaching seat, you'd always rather have more mature guys to deal with," he said. "However ... you have the right to do whatever you want to do after high school. Nobody says you have to go to college. If you look at it like that, I understand that side of it, too."
Ben Simmons, projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, made a mockery of his single season at LSU, apparently attending as few classes as possible. Second-year Magic small forward Aaron Gordon is refreshingly candid about doing the dance for a year at Arizona.
"I love exactly where I'm at right now. This is my dream: to play in the NBA, to play against the best in the world and I get to do it on a daily basis," he said. "My dream was never to play college basketball. My dream is to do this, and I'm doing it."
Jennings said he had planned to attend Arizona, but changed his mind when legendary coach Lute Olson retired. The deal to play in Italy came along as did roughly a $1 million salary and a $3 million shoe deal.
Jennings lived in Rome with his mother and brother, making the transition easier. After a year, he was eligible to enter the NBA draft and was selected 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jennings has no regrets, although he feels his early start as a pro has put him in a unique time warp.
"The league is younger now. I'm 26 and I'm considered a vet," laughed Jennings. "That's the crazy part."
No, the crazy part is we're not yet done with the one-and-done.
— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)