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Early Entry into the NBA Harsh Realities For Young Players

Tuesday, November 27, 2001 at 2:30 PM

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It used to be said that if you want to make it in life, you graduate from high school, go to college, and then find a good paying job. However, more and more teenagers are finding the lure of multi-million dollar sports deals too tempting to pass up. This year, the Cleveland Cavaliers made history this year by drafting their first round pick out of High School. The NBA itself set a surprising trend for this season with teams drafting four high school players in the top ten and only one college graduate. Northeast Ohio boasts of having, one of the top high school players in the country. And at only 16 years old, he's already being rumored to make the jump to the NBA. But according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association only three out of 10,000 make it - and those who do often get a rude awakening. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports critics of this trend say these teens need be educated about the realities of making it to the NBA and what it's like if you get there.

Tarice Sims- It’s practice day for the Cavaliers and rookie DeSagana Diop rides a stationary bike and pumps weights on the sideline, while his teammates work through a play. As he stands to walk over to the team trainer, his size is the first thing you notice. At 7 feet, 300-pounds, he blends in nicely with the 20- and 30-somethings on the court. Then you see his face, and you realize he’s a kid. 19-year-old DeSagana Diop was born in Senegal and spent the last two years playing basketball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. He was one of several teens who chose the NBA over college this season. Diop says he made that decision because he thought it would be a better way to develop his skills.

DeSagana Diop- I thought if I went to college that it wouldn’t be like the same here (in terms of) what I’m going to learn. And coming here in the NBA you could learn more I think playing. Second I could help my family, help a lot of people ‘cause you can always go back to college later. I’m going to take a class later this summer.

TS- Like most teenage NBA players, Diop is getting some extra attention. He’s only been in the country for 2-3 years, so his mother flew in from Senegal to help him get established in Cleveland, and his older brother lives with him. Also, this year the Cavs hired Earl Patton Jr., as the director of player relations. He says he looks after all the players, but most of his attention is directed toward the young DeSagana Diop.

Earl Patton Jr.- Any rookie would have to adjust to the NBA but any 19-year-old would have to adjust a lot more. It’s basically a lifestyle change and basically he has adult responsibilities at 19 years yet he’s still a kid.

TS- Diop has only played 6 minutes in a preseason game but he says it was a wake-up call - he didn’t think the other players were that good. So, far, Diop’s biggest challenge has been adjusting to a new lifestyle after signing a multi-million dollar contract. His salary for this season is roughly $1.8 million. Dr. Susan Zeigler is a professor of Sports Psychology at Cleveland State University. She says a teen prepared for that degree of success is rare.

Susan Zeigler- I think the athlete that comes out and has a good work ethic and has a sense of personal responsibility and is in there for task mastery as opposed to ego gratification will probably do fine but I think that’s the rare exception in a high school athlete that is still quite immature.

TS- Diop came out as the number 8 overall pick in the draft but there’s another local teen that has been predicted to go even higher. Labron James is a 16-year-old junior at St. Vincent - St. Mary’s High School in Akron and is ranked as the top player in the country by USA today, among other scouting publications. James says he is still considering several colleges including Ohio State, but believes he has what it takes to play in the NBA.

Labron James- I just think it’d be like playing in any other game. You just gotta go out there and showcase your talent. You know. If you got a great ability to score you’ll be a great player. I think if you just go out there play hard as you can, play you’re game you’ll be successful in the NBA.

TS- James’ basketball coach Dru Joyce says he is an awesome talent but colleges are not recruiting him as hard as one might expect. He says that’s because most schools have already determined his going straight to the NBA next year.

Dru Joyce- The schools are recruiting him like he’s not coming. And but they’re trying to stay in touch in case he were to change his mind and actually go to college. And the other thing, which Labron has done, that is good is he’s named the schools that he’s really interested in. So it kind of let’s people know that ‘hey, these are the 5 to 7 schools I want to play at’ and those are the ones that have shown the most interest.

TS- But the coach admits James is a rare talent. According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, a quarter of a million teens play high school sports and less than 1% get scholarships to a division one school - and no state of Ohio athlete has ever made the jump to play professional ball. Dwayne Warns is an assistant commissioner for the OHSAA he says the purpose of teams sports is to teach values not to prepare them to be college or professional athletes.

Dwayne Warns- A lot of people are misled by their athletic achievement. I talk with parents all the time who think their kid is going to get a college scholarship and their average athletes and there’s no way that they’re going to get a scholarship to participate in the athletics in college but that’s the dream they have for their children and I think to encourage and make children think they’re going to have that type of opportunity is unfortunate.

TS- This year the NBA started the National Basketball Development League, or the NBDL. The league is designed for those who are not ready to play in the NBA, but want to pursue a career in professional basketball. But, the league has an age limit of 20 years old, because as league director Carl Hicks says, college is still being encouraged. However, if a high school player enters the NBA draft and doesn’t get picked there is a special clause that says he is eligible to play in the NBDL for the minimum $30,000 a season. In Cleveland Tarice Sims 90.3 WCPN News.

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