Will Barton and the NBA D-League as a Home for the Academically Ineligible
But one man's loss is another's gain, they say, and Barton will play somewhere next year. But no one knows where that will be right now. Brandon Jennings faced similar circumstances two years ago after committing to Arizona; while he left Tucson before word officially broke he would be ineligible, that's the assumed reason Jennings packed up at headed to Rome, where he played sparingly for Lottomatica Roma of Italy's Lega Basket A. Despite the lack of visibility, Jennings was the No. 10 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, and finished third in 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year voting.
So there's Europe. Barton is good enough today to get a contract and, depending on the team and coach, play. But over at Ridiculous Upside, FanHouse contributor Scott Schroeder makes a compelling case for a league closer to home: the NBA D-League.
The argument is that while Europe provides much better money in the short-term, the Jennings situation is always a threat. European coaches coach to win. While winning and playing to win are obviously important concepts for young players, playing to win doesn't always jive with skill development. As the argument has long been, if a European squad lands an American 18-year-old and realizes the player can't help the team win immediately, there's no incentive to develop the kid. He's just going to return to the United States in a year (or two, in the case of Jeremy Tyler). The D-League is clearly different, with preparation for the NBA a key component of everything most teams do.
In other words, the D-League is college without the books and eligibility requirements.
That, of course, begs the question: should the D-League be a landing place for brilliant prospects who can't qualify for NCAA play? It worked out for Latavious Williams, who, like Barton, committed to Memphis but couldn't meet academic eligibility requirements. Instead of going the junior college route and trying to make a path in Europe (which is more difficult for big men), Williams signed with the Tulsa 66ers, a D-League team owned wholly by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The basketball management of the Thunder liked his work ethic and potential, and acquired him in the 2010 draft, in the second round. It was the first team a player went from high school to the D-League to the NBA, and it was considered a watershed moment.
But a player of Barton's caliber doing the same would mean a lot more in terms of the future of the D-League as a true college alternative. It'll be hard to resist the green lure of Europe -- and let's not kid ourselves, as 18-year-olds we all would have chosen Paris or Madrid over Erie or Reno -- but the D-League can be a great option for players like Barton who are rejected by the NCAA.