April 27, 2003

The next LeBron James is coming.: O.J. Mayo, a 6-5, 15-year-old point guard from Ashland, Kentucky, is transferring to Cincinnati's North College Hill School. "North College Hill is already bracing for what could be an unprecedented media storm, at least on the Cincinnati prep level. Mayo's games routinely sold out Rose Hill's 1,000-seat gym, and NCH is already thinking of moving games from its similar-sized gym to larger venues."

posted by thescoop to basketball at 08:19 PM - 19 comments

There's already a next LeBron James?

posted by therev at 08:28 PM on April 27

I'm not saying I actually possess this quality myself, but couldn't we wait for, just for instance, the current basketball season t end before we begin this coronation? Or possibly even O.J. Mayo's senior year in high school?

posted by billsaysthis at 10:10 PM on April 27

dude, wait till next week, when we get to hear about the next O. J. Mayo...

posted by chmurray at 10:26 PM on April 27

Well, perhaps they mean the next Lebron in the sense of a high school athlete who draws insane coverage and hype before his time. In which case, it will always be premature when we crown someone the next Lebron, or O.J. I'm reminded of a great "Mr. Show" skit about two Hoop Dreams-esque "recruiters" scouting the next big talent- some 4 and 5 year olds. Good stuff, good stuff. But I suspect this is just the start of things to come. The fact is, NCAA is a joke, a pointless waste of time, and any really great talent should work to get their training in high school and then go straight to the pros. Which means more and more we'll be hearing about great high schoolers, rather than great college players- my great hope is that the NCAA devolves into nothing more than a basketball version of the XFL, a place also-rans go in hopes of reviving failed careers. It makes more sense for Lebron and others like him to go straight to the pros, and risk not "developing" as fully as if he spent time in a Div I program. Take the money, take the money, take the money. It's the most important thing in their world, certainly more important than maintaining the self-serving hypocrisy of millionaire coaches talking about education. The risk is that unlike college sports, all high school regions are not created equal, and dominating in Illinois is not the same as dominating in New York, or wherever, so evaluating talent becomes far more difficult. But in time, that will be overcome, and there is no earthly reason a great 18-year-old HS superstar shouldn't be drafted into the NBA. He'll learn as much in the NBA as in the NCAA, probably more in terms of playing the pro game. An 18-year-old drafted will have 4 years to catch up to his college attending counterparts, and to do so while making at worst several hundred thousand dollars a year. At best, he'll prove himself like Kevin Garnett, who it seems proves that college is not the only way to develop into a fantastic player.

posted by hincandenza at 01:57 AM on April 28

Nice points, Hal... If you're dominating in these states -- IL, IN, KY, NY, NJ, MD, PA, CA, OH, NC, GA and MI -- you're probably not a chump. Moreover, much of the evaluation is to come in these camps, where (a) the best from South Dakota can play the best from New York City; and (b) people get to see if your success comes from your talent or from your supporting cast... During this season, Dunleavy more or less said that he wished he'd left Duke earlier, for many of the reasons Hal outlined.

posted by jackhererra at 08:51 AM on April 28

Dittos to Hal. The most interesting dynamic to me is how these 18 year old kids will be competing for jobs with seasoned, fundamentally sound European ballplayers. The success of Nowitzki and Stoyakovic and Yao Ming (sorry - props to the Asiatics too!), not only with their raw ability but with their polished product and ability to help their team win is going to strengthen the argument for either the college route or a farm system. Lebron et.al. might be showy and sell sneaks and get fans in the seats, but Nowitzki-types are making teams better.

posted by vito90 at 10:48 AM on April 28

Excellent points from vito90; a month or so ago, I saw an ESPN feature on some guy from Serbia who was playing on an Italian team (I believe; don't remember all the details very well) having moved from his war-torn country at like 15, and had been playing on the pro circuit for a few years despite being only 18 or 19. Anyone remember this guy? They were talking about him as possibly a better pick than a Lebron, because he'd been proving his worth against grown men in a relatively polished league, as opposed to Lebron or other HS stars proving their worth against mostly players who won't even make a good college team. He was unusual, however, since most of the European players that get a look are at least at the age of the college players and have basically just spent their time in the pro leagues as opposed to Syracuse or Kansas- developing the same skills, or even better "team" skills as jack notes, than high schoolers and even many NCAAers do. The underlying point I think we all agree on is that while NCAA might be fun to watch, it's kind of passed it's time as a useful enterprise; it's biggest draw has always been the idea that these are future stars of the NBA, and more and more the best players realize that a good college program is not the only way to make it to the Show any more. A serious player who's 18 needs to really consider either direct-to-NBA if he's good enough, or finding a slot in a pro league in Europe rather than college, to develop his skills. So perhaps high school drafting will increase, but we may also see the initiation of a real "minor leagues" in the US, along with the european leagues, as an alternative to really develop young players without the silly and transparent disguise of "pursuing an education" to see them bloom as b-ball players. But as vito90 hints, the European leagues haven't even been fully tapped yet; once they are we'll eventually move (when air travel allows it) to a more global game, with a Global Basketball Association made of the current NBA franchises and other major cities around the globe. As last summer's humiliation of Team USA showed, the gap between the best of the US and the best of the rest has already narrowed a great deal from the '92 dream team romp. The reality is, if US sports culture spreads to all corners of the globe, the US will someday become a minority of the sports stars in the world, even in its "own" sports like baseball, basketball, and [American] football. Yao Ming is not the last athlete to make a splash in US sports at the top level to come from a country that holds one fifth of the world's population...

posted by hincandenza at 11:09 AM on April 28

I'm reminded of a great "Mr. Show" skit That's all I can ever think when people start talking up high school prospects. Then I feel bad about that kid not getting the potato soup.

posted by yerfatma at 03:23 PM on April 28

Hal: the guy your thinking of is Darko Milicic. While I agree with your general sentiments, I wouldn't start playing Taps for NCAA Basketball just yet. It's a multi-billion dollar endeavor and they (and a number of financial partners - CBS, ESPN) will fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. Remember the NBA Development League? The moment the NBA hinted it might be an alternative for athletes who don't want to go to college, but aren't quite ready for the Show, the NCAA squawked, and look who plays in that league now: ex-college players.

posted by kloeprich at 03:52 PM on April 28

Then I feel bad about that kid not getting the potato soup. Ah, glad to know that there were at least two of us keeping that show on HBO for as long as it was there. Can't believe the fuckers cancelled that, but Arli$$ runs for like 7 years. Argh!

posted by hincandenza at 04:00 PM on April 28

With a name like O.J. Mayo, it has to be good.

posted by msacheson at 06:27 PM on April 28

Lebron et.al. might be showy and sell sneaks and get fans in the seats, but Nowitzki-types are making teams better. C'mon, man. Can you back this up? Did I miss where the Mavericks suddenly won 55 games in Nowitzki's rookie year? Oh, I didn't, because it didn't happen. In real life, he struggled in the same way that Bryant, McGrady and Garnett did when they were 18 year olds learning about the NBA. If Bryant -- the precursor to LeBron -- is nothing but style, why does he have three rings to zip when compared to Euros at the same age who are "making teams better"? Aren't McGrady and Garnett doing the same things for their franchises that Nowitzki has done for his? Isn't Amare Stoudamire in the playoffs while Yao is chilling at home? (Btw, this shouldn't be construed as ripping Nowitzki, who is clearly among the top 10 talents in the NBA, so much as defending Kobe-types who LeBron is following.) The point is that no segment of players is more helpful to NBA teams, unless if you're talking about those players who score and those who defend. You can look among both the under-24 U.S. players and under-25 "foreign" players and find your share of guys who are stars and those who aren't a bucket of warm spit.

posted by jackhererra at 12:34 AM on April 29

If the NCAA's interests are in mind, these players seem better off just jumping to the NBA...especially when you look at a player like Carmelo Anthony. Jim Boeheim wasn't kidding when he joked that he'd like to see Carmelo in another Final Four. Anthony's abandoning the Syracuse could really hurt that program (but they'll probably get a couple great recruits to offset it). It's the one and done's that hurt the NCAA not the Amare Stoudamire's of the world. Would he have looked great in a Memphis jersey and helped that team no doubt, but the NCAA isn't worse off...they can't know what might have been. But all those freshmen and sophomores leaving that have a huge impact....at least on the fans of College Basketball

posted by YukonGold at 08:55 AM on April 29

Jack - I intentionally left Kobe out of the equation because he is a freak, and he did make his team better right away. Naturally there are going to be Kobes, Lebron's, Garnetts etc. who clearly made the right decision. Who can say Kemp made the wrong decision? Or Jermaine O' Neal? No...I'm talking about the B-listers. The high schoolers that jack up 30 and 15 every day against other high schoolers and then get it into their head that they are ready for the big time. While I agree you will find foreigners and high schoolers who did well and plenty who do poorly, you can say the same lottery pics, Duke Alumni, white ballplayers, players from the Pac-10, skinny guys, guys built like trucks, etc. You just never know how they will develop. Lifted from this page - peep these high schoolers that WERE drafted since 1996: 1996 Taj McDavid (never played, had eligibility restored by the NBA) 1996 Jermaine O'Neal (all-star) 1997 Tracy McGrady (all-world) 1998 Al Harrington (12 points, 6 boards a game) 1998 Rahsard Lewis (all-star) 1998 Ellis Richardson (served 8 months after being convicted on robbery charges) 1998 Korleone Young (last seen playing in the CBA) 1999 Jonathan Bender (6 points a game) 1999 Leon Smith (attempted suicide, out of basketball, never played a game) 2000 Darius Miles 2001 Kwame Brown (7 points a game) 2001 Tyson Chandler (10 pts a game) 2001 Eddy Curry (10 pts a game) 2001 DeSagana Diop (huh?) 2001 Tony Key (huh?) 2001 Ousmane Cisse (huh?) 2002 Amare Stoudemire (great pick) Amare, Lewis, O' Neal, McGrady have all helped to vastly improve their teams...arguably as well as or better than any other pick might (or pickup in the case of O'Neal with the Pacers) would have. Here are foreign-born players taken in the first round of the same span: 1996 - Zydrunas Ilgauskas 1997 - Pedrag Stojakovic, Vitaly Potapenko 1998 - Dirk Nowitzki, Rasoslav Nesterovic, Mirsad Turkcan, Vladimir Stepania 1999 - Wang Zhi Zhi, Emanuel Ginobili, Andrei Kirilenko, 2000 - Olumide Oyedeji, Iakovos Tsakalidis, Hidayet Turkoglu 2001 - Pau Gasol, Vladimir Radmanovic, Tony Parker 2002 - Yao Ming (first pick), Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Nene Hilario, Bostjan Nachbar, Jiri Welsch Yes - I left out some of the crummiest guys...but only for brevity sake. The high schooler list is comprehensive. Before that, there was Moses Malone, Bill Willoughby, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, and (He's not Your Vydas, He's not My Vydas, He's...) Arvydas Sabonis. The draft is a crapshoot. But if you had a way to crunch the numbers (NBA Sabermetrics? How about it Grummie?) then I would wager you would find foreign born players have a bigger impact on team success than high school draftees (even two, three, five years out). Foreign players are getting a few extra years of development not only in game but in body and mind, they are playing against good competition, they are learning the fundamentals of the game (the irony here is that Europe is "behind" the US in terms of basketball development...I guess it depends on your definition of a good basketball player), and they are hungry. Here's a good article on the topic I found while searching...

posted by vito90 at 09:02 AM on April 29

In the "before that" file, don't forget Drazen Petrovic, who was starting to get really busy in the NBA before he died in a car crash... To start, Richardson, Key and McDavid didn't get drafted. More importantly, no one thought they had any chance of being drafted. As for the second-round high school guys, I'm not sure they're terribly indicative, either. Not to spin, but I'd look at the guys drafted in the first round, those are the guys you build around or plug holes. Since 1995, the NBA has taken 23 players from the foreign system and 14 with high school ball as their highest level of play. Take away the four guys who've decided not to play here, and the impact is about the same. U.S.: Three possible HOFers, one star, one rising star, one solid pro, two journeyman, two busts and the jury's out on the other four. (Judgement reserved on players since '01 who haven't made an impact. My money is on Diop being a bust.) Foreign: One possible HOFer, one star, two rising stars, three solid pros, two busts, three journeymen and the jury's out on the other seven. Three Hall of Famers out of 14 for the high schoolers as compared to one out of 19 for club alumni. So why should Kobe be left out of the equation? And if you take away Dallas and Sacramento, there's not much of a profound impact in terms of wins and losses. Few of the first-rounds players have looked like men among men in their rookie year in the NBA, because the league isn't usually drafting guys like that over the age of 20. Kobe didn't help the Lakers a bunch in his rookie year. Nor did Peja, T-Mac, KG or Dirk. Amare, Gasol, Parker and Ming are probably the only ones to jump off of the plane and work over the older players. So I'd be glad to wager, again, that it's a wash. And another thing to consider is that in nine months when the guys aren't in high school competition, they're playing regularly against guys from Division I or better. For instance, the NBA did fine the Cavs $150,000 for basically letting James workout with a half-dozen of that team's regulars.

posted by jackhererra at 01:18 PM on April 29

Vito: Highschooler DeShawn Stevenson was also taken in the first round of the 2000 draft by the Jazz. So what's the consensus here? Should I return my OJ Mayo jersey (which is going to be tough - they threw in a Gale Sayers and a Wes Unseld, on account of my good grades) for the jersey of some 15 year old Serbian kid playing in Spain? Who's rookie card should I buy?

posted by kloeprich at 01:44 PM on April 29

And I have DeShawn slotted as a bust unless he pulls a Chris Mullin and suddenly becomes an All-Star... Kloeprich, you may not remember the name, but Schea Cotton was a guy who was supposed to be "can't miss" at Mater Dei almost 10 years ago. There were about 6 or 7 seniors headed to Division I schools -- teams that mean something -- on the court between Mater Dei and Crenshaw in the state's semifinal and Cotton was easily the best player on the court as a freshman. I went to watch him as a sophomore and he ended up with a profile in SI. The guy was last seen in one of those NBDL "buster" leagues. Burn your O.J. Mayo jersey, unless you can find a way to get it wrapped around cylindrical cardboard in your restroom. Hold off buying any others. http://www.sacbee.com/content/sports/story/6048950p-7005508c.html

posted by jackhererra at 03:32 PM on April 29

jack: I remember Schea Cotton when he was at Long Beach CC. I think he was at Mater Dei around '96-'97 - how time flies. He actually came out of Alabama early for that same 2000 draft but wasn't taken. Suprise. And you're dead on with Stevenson. Another kid who should of and could of gone to school (he signed with Kansas). I doubt the Jazz will give him much more time to 'develop'.

posted by kloeprich at 04:20 PM on April 29

Cotton played at Mater Dei from '93-95 -- only remember that because those were my freshman and sophomore years in college -- then went to two or three other schools for his final two years. The amazing thing about back then, for me at least, is that Baron Davis was pretty much overshadowed in the LA area by Cotton, Chris Burgess and the Collins twins. Granted, Davis wasn't really overshadowed by anyone else in the country, but it's funny that he's the only guy out of those "stars" to become an actual star. Okay, maybe not. The million-dollar question on Stevenson is whether he would have predicted on the SAT or ACT. I don't know. But as much time I've spent rapping the Euro proponents, he would have been better off overseas than KU. I tend to think the college coaches are in it for themselves, so players oftentimes don't learn as much as perhaps they should.

posted by jackhererra at 09:10 PM on April 29

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