Brandon Jennings has decided to be a trail blazer--and not the kind that plays in Portland.
The point guard from Compton, Calif., and Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., has decided to circumvent the “one and done” rule by pursuing professional opportunities in Europe. Jennings had signed a letter of intent to play at Arizona next season, though he was still waiting for his SAT scores to see if he would be eligible for his freshman season.
“It’s the best way to develop his career,” Los Angeles attorney Jeffrey Valle, Jennings’ representative, told the Arizona Daily Star.
Valle said there are a multitude of reasons why Jennings has decided to play in Europe rather than Arizona. Chief among them, obviously, is so he can begin making money next season before entering the NBA draft in 2009.
“Brandon has considered all the factors you would think--considering the pros and cons of what was available to him, wanting to play professionally, wanting to find a good environment,” Valle said. "He's been thinking long and hard. Several teams have expressed interest.”
However, it remains to be seen how many European teams will warm to a player who is interested in playing only one season then returning to the United States. It seems likely most foreign teams would offer Jennings a contract that would have to be bought out by the NBA team that drafts him.
Jennings was considered the top recruit in the nation this past season, and was going to be ranked as college basketball’s No. 1 freshman for 2008-09 when the first Basketball Prospectus annual reaches bookstores later this year. Jennings’ loss is a huge blow for Arizona, as he was expected to step into the lineup in place of point guard Jerryd Bayless, who left after one season to enter the NBA draft.
"We're disappointed in terms of Brandon's decision, but we wish him the best of luck,” Wildcats coach Lute Olson said. “We hope things turn out well for him in the future.”
Opinion is split on whether Jennings will begin a trend of high school players heading overseas rather than to college.
"It's hard to pass up," said Abdul Gaddy, a highly recruited guard who is getting set to enter his senior year at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash. “What high school kid is going to pass up the opportunity to go to Europe for a $1-million contact and maybe get a $2-million shoe contract? If you put that in front of high schoolers, it’s going to be very enticing.”
Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood doesn’t forecast a mass exodus of high-school stars from the United States, though he also doesn’t completely rule it out.
"If this is being perceived as a new era, I think that's wrong because it’s too early to tell," Livengood said. “It's hard to say. I just know this is not going to go away."
New Hoops Conference
There will be a new Division I conference next season. The Great West Conference, heretofore a football-only league consisting of schools in the champions sub-division, is becoming an all-sports league and has invited Houston Baptist, New Jersey Tech, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley to be basketball-playing members.
The Great West Conference is also looking to add more members. It will not immediately have an automatic berth for its champion to get into the NCAA Tournament.
All six of the schools played as independents last season, though Texas-Pan American was the only full-fledged Division I program. New Jersey Tech and Utah Valley become active Division I members in the 2009-10 season while Houston Baptist, North Dakota and South Dakota won’t take that final step until 2011-12.
Being a Division I independent is a tough row to hoe, especially when it comes to fleshing out schedules as most programs begin conference play at the start of January.
“It gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of identity. It is a great step,” Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker told the Provo Daily Herald about the advantages of joining a conference. “We were really having a hard time filling January and February dates. There are a number of independents who, for whatever reason, who have chosen not to play us.
“The greatest benefit is that every player likes to play for a championship in the conference. They want to follow the standings. They want to know what this next game means. That’s the biggest benefit but I think the most stabilizing factor is the scheduling.”
Chicago State and Seattle, another fledgling Division I program, are expected to join the Great West in time for 2009-10. A number of other independents declined an invitation, including Cal State-Bakersfield, Longwood and Savannah State.
Guerrero Ascends to Chair
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has been named chairman of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee for 2009-10. He will replace Southeastern Conference comissioner Mike Slive, the current chairman.
Guerrero is currently the chairman of the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball academic enhancement group.
“It is truly an honor to follow in the footsteps of my colleagues who have previously served the NCAA membership as chair of this prestigious committee,” Guerrero said. “Their extraordinary leadership has helped to ensure that this great sporting event remains at the pinnacle for generations of college basketball fans everywhere. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on the committee and, as chair, will endeavor to listen, lead and embrace this wonderful opportunity.”
Crawford to Xavier
Guard Jordan Crawford has transferred to Xavier after leaving Indiana along with almost every other Hoosiers player since Kelvin Sampson was forced out as coach in February after being accused by the NCAA of breaking rules pertaining to phone calls to recruits and being eventually replaced by Marquette’s Tom Crean.
Crawford’s decision to join the Musketeers for his final three seasons of eligibility wasn’t a hard decision. Xavier was his second choice when he came out of high school in Detroit in 2007.
“When I decided I was going to leave IU, Xavier was the first one I wanted to contact,” Crawford told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this, like it was high school recruiting. I didn’t want to take visits.”
Crawford, though, did consider other schools before making the move to Xavier, including Central Michigan, Detroit, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia Tech. He averaged 9.9 points a game last season as a freshman.
Brey Gets Extension
After being picked as the Big East Coach of the Year the past two seasons, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey received a two-year contract extension that takes him through 2014-15.
“As he peers have acknowledged by selecting him coach of the year the past two season, Mike has built of the top men’s basketball programs in the Big East Conference,” Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins said. “His quiet confidence and class are a perfect fit for Notre Dame and I am sure that we’ll enjoy still more success in coming years.”
Brey, 49, has compiled a 167-86 record in eight seasons at Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish went 25-8 last season, losing to Washington State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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