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Jennings the new face of preps-to-pros

11/13/2008

When Kevin Garnett went pro out of high
school in 1995, he ignited the preps-to-pros
movement.

In the next three drafts, a combined four high
schoolers were taken in the first round. Then in 2001,
four of the first 10 selections came from the prep ranks.

But the NBA closed the floodgates in 2005 by
enacting a rule that mandated draft-eligible players
to be 19 years old and at least a year removed from
high school graduation.

Three years later, a new trailblazer has arrived.
Brandon Jennings, a 2008 graduate of Oak Hill
Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), opted to prepare for
the 2009 NBA Draft by playing professionally in Italy
rather than going to Arizona.

One of the major questions facing high school
hoops this year is whether or not Jennings'move will
start a movement the way Garnett's did.

While most top players express little interest
now, it remains to be seen how they'll feel in six
months, especially if Jennings has a big year.

"I don't want to go to Europe, man," says Sickles
(Tampa, Fla.) power forward John Henson, the No. 3
senior in the ESPNU 100. "Why would I want to go to
Europe if I could stay over here and play basketball?"
One reason is money. Jennings, who already has an
apparel deal with Under Armour, is slated to earn more
than $1 million in salary and endorsements this year.

The big uncertainty surrounding Jennings is
whether being out of sight, out of mind will hurt his
draft stock. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant saw
their draft positions and marketability explode
thanks to big performances in front of millions on
the college stage.

"If [Jennings is] at Arizona killing on TV, he's going to
come in with a lot more hype," says Henson. "And hype
equals high draft pick."

Among those who may consider Jennings' path
next spring are Fairfax (Los Angeles, Calif.) forward
Renardo Sidney and Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) guard
Lance Stephenson, rated Nos. 5 and 7 in the ESPNU 100.

Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) swingman Jordan
Hamilton fits the profile of a preps-to-passport candidate.
The No. 8 senior in the ESPNU 100 regularly IMs
with Jennings. Plus, Hamilton's older brother, Gary,
plays professionally in Germany.

Regardless, Hamilton has committed to Texas and
doesn't plan on changing his mind. Of course, that
doesn't mean others won't follow Jennings' lead.

"I think a couple guys will go over there,"Hamilton
says. "If they go over there to get better and not just
for the money, it will be a good thing for them."

Jennings agrees.

"Don't come over here with an attitude," he says.
"Be ready to work hard, and your main focus should
be getting better. The money is good, everyone
knows that. But make sure you're 100 percent sure
about it."

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.