SBJ/June 20 - 26, 2005/Other News

NBPA offers no age limit for lottery picks

In a move that would protect the ability of the next LeBron James to enter the NBA straight from high school, the National Basketball Players Association has proposed a system in which teams could draft high school players — but only in the first 14 slots, or lottery picks, in the NBA draft.

High school players who are not among the first 14 chosen in the first round would then be subject to a 19-year-old age limit, under the union’s proposal for a new collective-bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires June 30.

NBA Commissioner David Stern last week expressed concern that the union’s proposal would not solve the problem of NBA general managers and scouts in high school gyms, a situation he said has fueled teenagers’ unrealistic expectations that they can go to the NBA rather than to college. “We would rather negotiate over the age limit itself rather than splitting the class,” Stern said at a news conference last week.

Stern acknowledged, however, that the league, which originally pushed for a minimum age of 20, has moved to a 19-year-old age limit as a compromise.

Under the current labor agreement, all players can enter the draft after their 18th birthday. NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter has said publicly that the players are opposed to any age limit.

Although both sides have moved in negotiations from their original positions on the age issue, it is not clear how they can bridge the gap between them. The NBA halted negotiations June 1; it was not clear at press time whether they had scheduled another session.

The push for an age restriction coincides with the biggest explosion of basketball prowess in U.S. high schools in decades, said Sonny Vaccaro, grassroots basketball consultant to Reebok, and confidante and mentor to many high school and NBA stars.

“The kids coming out of high school in the next three years have the most amount of talent I have seen in 41 years,” Vaccaro said. Vaccaro projects about 40 current freshmen, sophomores and juniors in high school as first-round NBA draft picks.

Vaccaro would not compare these players with Cleveland Cavaliers star James, but he said that unlike two years ago, when James came out of high school, there are now numerous players with precocious talent, not just one standout. Two players who are already getting a ton of press are Greg Oden, a junior at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, and O.J. Mayo, a sophomore at Cincinnati North College Hill High School.

“With all due respect, in my opinion, Greg Oden would be the No. 1 pick this year, next year and the year after that,” Vaccaro said. “O.J. Mayo, and others in his [school year] class, will be the No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 picks,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro supports the union’s proposal of allowing high school players to be drafted in the first 14 slots. “It is an honorable solution to a touchy problem.”

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