Richard Hendrix Has Decision To Make

A line of Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem" inspired playwright Lorraine Hansberry to entitle her Tony Award winning play, "A Raisin in the Sun." The plot explores the conflict among family members seeking to fulfill their deferred dreams with money from an impending insurance payment due to the death of the patriarch.

That doesn't sound like a scenario related to basketball, but maybe it is.

Soon he will contemplate the options of entering his name in the NBA draft or retaining his college eligibility for his senior season. Career threatening injuries can separate gifted young basketball players from possible wealth, which is why insurance considerations loom large as modern day athletes seek to protect the financial future.

Before considering the specifics of Alabama basketball star Richard Hendrix, who just completed his junior season for the Crimson Tide, here is some background.

Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance (ESDI), established by the NCAA in October 1990, for football and men's basketball, was initially designed to protect the loss of future earnings and act as a deterrent against unscrupulous agents offering to purchase protection for individuals with remaining eligibility in violation of member institution rules. Administered by the Wakefield, Massachusetts, based HCC Specialty Underwriters, Inc., expansion of the program now includes baseball, men's ice hockey and women's basketball. Three subsidiaries of HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc. are the insurers and are responsible for the investigation and settlement of claims. According to NCAA Assistant Director of Travel and Insurance Juanita Sheely, inquiries from student-athletes, parents, legal guardians or representatives from the member institution are the only ones that will be processed by the administrator.

A panel of basketball experts associated with professional scouting services operating on the condition of anonymity must project the student-athlete to be a first round selection in the NBA draft for him to be eligible for a policy. Acceptance by the program guarantees authorized approval for a loan from the U. S. Bank, N.A. Sports Division, in Cincinnati, Ohio to finance the exact cost of the premium, interest and fees without the signature of a co-signer. Payment is due when either a student-athlete signs a professional contract, disability benefits become available because of a career ending injury/sickness, or maturation of the loan note.

Basketball players expected to be chosen in the top echelon of the first round can secure a maximum policy value of $4.4 million dollars through the approved and endorsed NCAA ESDI program. The cost is $6,000 per million dollars worth of coverage for a 12 month policy based on their previous health history according to Jeff Stanley, senior sports underwriter of HCC Specialty Underwriters. Maximum policy values of around $2 million and $1 million are available for proposed middle and lower first round selections. "We insure a percentage of that amount (salary) which is a lump sum tax free benefit to the player in the event that they are not able to sign an NBA contract because they suffer a permanent total disability due to injury or illness," said Stanley.

NBA personnel project an underclassmen's draft position to the insurance underwriters by designating a range of high lottery selection (1-5), mid lottery (6-10), late lottery (11-14), mid first round (15-20), late mid first round (high teens to low 20's) or late first round (in the 20's to 30). "Usually we are going to take the conservative end of the range of projections that we receive," Stanley said.

Under the current collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players association, the first two years are guaranteed with two separate one year team options for the third and fourth years. The 2008-09 rookie scale for the top selection in the draft would earn a first year salary of $4.019 million and $4.3204 million in the second year with a third year option total of $4.6218 million. Selected last (30th) in the first round would constitute salaries of $797,600, $857,400 and $917,200 (option) for the first three years. Although increasing the maximum value policy limits is being considered by the NCAA due to the escalation of NBA salaries, the current levels were established to insure about 50-60% of their after tax earnings for the first three years of the contract only excluding bonuses and endorsements stated Sheely.

The University of Alabama has assembled the Professional Sports Counseling Panel (PSCP) comprised of faculty members and athletic administrators specializing in sports law, financial planning and career counseling to educate all their athletes. Dr. Robert McLeod, professor of finance and chair of the PSCP, emphasized the apparent difference between the ESDI program and premium policies available from private insurers. Pre-approved financing through the ESDI program assures the student-athlete avoids any appearance of a preferential interest rate offered by a financial institution which would be against NCAA rules. Private policies underwritten by Lloyd's of London's require the individual to be responsible for obtaining financing as well as being more costly and restrictive than the NCAA approved product. Wording of the ESDI policy is approved and negotiated by the NCAA to have the least amount of exclusions. Another significant difference between the two is a guarantor would be required by the student-athlete for a policy underwritten by the private insurer.

Steve Kapusta, president of KSI Consulting, LLC, an independent specialty insurance firm of Norcross, Georgia, has strong recommendations for athletes considered high draft projections. "The athletes are going through a once in a lifetime situation. My biggest concern is they don't address the risks associated with the situation for any number of reasons. They are young and think of themselves as bullet proof or they don't wish to spend the money. It's prudent to at least investigate protecting yourself from a career threatening injury."

The National Basketball Association has conferred with the NCAA to enhance the underclassmen's pre-draft evaluation process as Stu Jackson, the NBA's Executive Director of Basketball Operations explained. "We work in cooperation with the NCAA. We actually send out to the colleges and universities a description of the NBA's undergraduate advisory committee. We offer each young man an opportunity to get a draft evaluation. That letter and description is sent to each of the Division 1 schools head coach. It's up to the head coach along with the player to submit a request for an evaluation."

The player will sign a form to be submitted to the NBA who will at the appropriate time provide him with his potential draft position. Chaired by Jackson, the advisory committee is comprised of ten members ranging from NBA general managers to player personnel types. The review process remains fluid as Jackson stated, "We provide an initial evaluation to the player about the second week in April. But we will provide ongoing evaluations to the player if they continue to request an evaluation leading up to either the withdrawal date (June 16th) or if they elect to stay in the draft, we will even provide an evaluation leading up to the draft. The evaluation is verbal and communicated to the coach and/or the player and certainly in rare occasions we've had an opportunity to speak to parents."

The evaluation stipulated by the NBA advisory committee categorizes a prospect as a lottery pick (1-14), first round player (15-30), second round player (31-60) or likely not to be drafted. A level of trust tests the relationship between the coach and the player as only the college coach is permitted to speak to the chief basketball person for each NBA team to gauge the interest of the perspective underclassmen.

Young, headstrong basketball players are not always so anxious to accept guidance from knowledgeable sources. "If they request an evaluation, we (NBA) will give them an educated and informed evaluation." "Not all players want an evaluation. They've made up their mind, said Jackson. "That's the most dangerous situation that a player could make, a decision not based on informed and unbiased information. The key with us is it really gives the player unbiased information. So much of the information the players get around the draft is coming off of websites that are not owned by NBA personnel. It's coming from people they hear from in the street, like street agents. It's not informed information. What we do is give them unbiased and educated information on the entire draft. For instance, often times players as they are evaluating their position don't even consider the potential of international players eligible for the draft."

Collaboration between the NCAA and the NBA allows underclassmen a one time opportunity to enter the draft during their collegiate career without jeopardizing their eligibility. The NBA's early entrant eligibility deadline of April 27th in conjuncture with the withdrawal deadline of June 16th provides a window of exploration for both parties before the June 26th draft from the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Upon withdrawal, the student-athlete must declare his intentions to resume his intercollegiate participation in writing to the director of athletics within thirty days after the draft.

An NCAA exception permits a student-athlete to accept actual and necessary travel, room and board expenses from an organization (NBA) to attend the pre-draft camp in Orlando at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex to be held May 27th through May 30th. Invitations for the 64-68 players are selected from a pool of seniors, international draft eligible, domestic early entrants and international early entrants.

Actual and necessary expense paid individual workouts held after the Orlando showcase with a professional team or at combine including that team are also permissible for the student-athlete as long as the duration does not exceed 48 hours and class is not missed. The 48 hour clock begins ticking as soon as the individual arrives at the tryout location. Self-financed tryouts can be any length as long as the student-athlete does not miss class.

Holder of state high school shot blocking records for a game (14), season (221) and career (667) along with the rebounding record (1820), the former Athens High School legendary star vacillated between Alabama and North Carolina before selecting the Crimson Tide at an afternoon press conference on October 19, 2004. "The biggest thing was the fact that the Alabama program is headed in the right direction," Hendrix replied about his decision that day. "I wanted to be a part of it. They have a lot of good recruits coming in and they are a step away from being a powerhouse." Alabama basketball's decline the past two years has moved the program a gigantic stairway leap away from reaching the pinnacle of college basketball's Final Four.

Scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in communications, Hendrix faces the unenviable dilemma of abandoning the Tuscaloosa hardwood stage without realizing the goal of leading Alabama to the promise land. Miniscule team success has afforded the once coveted McDonald's high school All-American few moments to rejoice as Alabama has accounted for one NCAA tournament win, one season (2005-06) with a winning conference record (9-7) and two post season appearances during his tenure. If he opts to enter the NBA draft pool he would exit with one SEC tournament win, a first round loss in the NIT (2006-07) and two below .500 conference finishes.

All the former great Alabama players who made an NBA roster achieved the minimum of playing in an SEC conference title game or winning an SEC regular season championship or winning at least two post season tournament games. His individual excellence leading the team in scoring and rebounding the last two years has not yielded a path to fulfillment for the unselfish junior power forward.

Ronald Steele will return at full strength next year to the delight of every player who yearns for steady playmaking leadership. The inconsistent Alonzo Gee who possess NBA type athletic ability should be more productive with the return of the red-shirted senior potential All-American point guard. Alabama signee, JaMychal Green, a St. Jude High School (Montgomery) McDonald's All-American 6'9" forward will bolster the inside presence and alleviate the constant opponents suffocating double teams of Hendrix. Additional offensive scoring and depth should be provided by the high flying, slashing 6'6" freshmen Tony Mitchell (Swainsboro HS, GA). The defensive presence and versatile all around guard skills of 6'3" Andrew Steele (John Carroll HS, AL) will be embraced by a team lacking perimeter defenders and productive playmaking distributors of the rock. Significant off-season player development by returning members will be warranted to envision any hopes of recapturing success on the hardwood. A senior led team of Hendrix, Steele and Gee would make Alabama the favorite to win the weakened western division of the SEC.

Hendrix came to Alabama as a heralded McDonald's high school All-American who eschewed the elite North Carolina Tar Heel program for the love of the Crimson and White home state university. Humbled during the summer of 2007 when cut from the Pan-Am games tryouts, Hendrix confronted an excess weight issue with a lifestyle change. Resorting to a properly balanced diet, cardiovascular workouts and drinking water improved his mobility after shedding 25 pounds. The undersized, long armed power forward possess an NBA body with the ability to score in the paint along with good timing and strong hands to rebound. Free throw shooting, lateral movement defensively and facing up to the basket offensive moves are concerns to be addressed in the off-season. Competing consistently with intensity in his senior season would also enhance his draft status.

Can he dismiss the last two years of teammates suffering injuries and off the court heartaches to come back in pursuit of his dream? Can the healthy trio of Hendrix, Steele and Gee play with a dedicated sense of urgency only seniors know and carry a team to an uncharted universe while an embattled coach sits on the bench? A team with four potential NBA players has chance to rectify all the misery of the recent past and launch the program to a promising future with one year of magic. Since the inception of the McDonald's All-American team in 1977, only twice has a collegiate team won an NCAA title without having a former McDonald's All-American on its roster (Kentucky in 1978 and Maryland in 2002). Hendrix and incoming freshman Green will be the first time Alabama has had more than one McDonald's All-American on the team since 1983 with Bobby Lee Hurt, Ennis Whatley and Alfonso "Buck" Johnson.

Richard Hendrix may chose to leave Alabama early for professional basketball and have a flourishing career for many years as part of a championship team in the NBA. Years from now when he ponders retirement from the game he loves, his thoughts will drift back to the decision he made in the spring of 2008. He came to T-town with hopes of making history but is he willing to hold onto those ambitions and eclipse the taste of future regret by embracing boldness in his youth by returning for one more attempt? Alabama football has many generations of players who have tasted the sweetness of a national championship unlike the basketball program which has yet to command a reservation at the Final Four banquet. Hendrix still has the opportunity to forge a path in history as a pivotal member of the team to feast at the table of Crimson Tide basketball glory.

Will Hendrix defer his NBA aspirations to pursue his passion of returning Alabama basketball to hardwood glory? Basketball and The University of Alabama are deeply ingrained in his heart and soul. He has a chance to live the fantasy of a lifetime by returning for his senior season and leading the team from the depths of the nightmarish two years to new heights never achieved by Alabama basketball. All the victories and accomplishments in professional basketball will never nourish this native son's spirit more than being part of the first team from Tuscaloosa to reach the Final Four. The confluence of dreams and insurance may be the security comfort blanket for Richard Hendrix to sleep easy for one more year in Tuscaloosa. Reaching his dream will ascend him to the Crimson Tide throne of round ball royalty worthy of coronation. He would be hailed as King Richard, forever dispelling the iconoclastic myth that Alabama is only a football school. Now that's a dream worth pursuing.

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