- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

The Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan must wade through franchise-changing decisions tonight in the NBA draft at 7 p.m. in New York. A record number 47 underclassmen, including six high-schoolers, have entered their names for the draft a job like any other, just one with a high profile. If these younger basketball players can perform the job of being a NBA player, they should be welcomed into the league.
While not all 47 hopefuls will be taken with the 57 picks, it is projected that as many as nine, including four high-schoolers, will be chosen in the first 10. Only Jordan, though, who has the No. 1 overall pick in the palms of his presidential hands, can propel the Wizards and the NBA into the history books by selecting a high-schooler. Indeed, age is a new issue for the NBA, and Commissioner David Stern desires to follow the NFL and insert age requirements into the league.
The NFL has a system in which its football players can't enter the league until four years after their high school class graduates. The NHL, PGA, USTA and MLB don't have age restrictions, and the NBA players' union doesn't think the NBA needs one. Young players with newfound wealth and fame can be a lethal mixture for a public relations department, such as the case of DeShawn Stevenson of the Utah Jazz. Last year, Stevenson became a high-schooler-turned-professional and is charged with statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl. But he is 20, so Stern's age restrictions wouldn't even apply to him. The NFL has proven that despite age requirements delinquency still festers. Having closer-knit families would help, and maybe having younger players mix with older athletes would help the maturation process.
NBA teams struggle to find a balance of younger and older players, something Jordan has been struggling with for two seasons. In the age of instant gratification, front offices are slighting societal trends and selecting players who may not blossom for years. Potential will often take precedence over four-year university veterans, such as Duke's Shane Battier. Battier is considered to have peaked at Duke, whereas a younger, bigger 6-11 Eddy Curry from Thornwood High School in Illinois has great potential, and great risk.
Ten years ago only 12 players left college early for the NBA. Now, players such as 6-11 Kwame Brown from Glynn Academy High School in Georgia see no reason for college. He grew up with seven siblings and a mom struggling to raise them all on low-wage jobs. He is a projected first-rounder with millions of dollars on the way. Go to school? There will be time during and after basketball, and he wants to help his mom now.
Stern hopes to provide a place for those who think they can make the NBA, but fall just short. The National Basketball Developmental League (NBDL), an eight-team league debuting in November in the Southeast, will give players a chance to play in the minor leagues of the NBA. Stern was able to pass his age requirement in the NBDL. Players must be at least 20 years old, unless drafted and subsequently cut, then they may be 18. Stern's hope is this league will strengthen the talent pool for the NBA.
But the point remains, if an athlete has graduated from high school and fulfilled state education requirements, there is no reason why he shouldn't be allowed to take the best job available to him.

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