NBA Draft Essay: A High Schooler's View

High school sophomore Darren McRoy, SchoolSports' Student Correspondent of the Year, takes on the big issue of whether prep athletes should be allowed to leap to the pros directly out of high school.

Like most aspiring young Little Leaguers, I always loved the movies about youths my age somehow ascending to the major leagues, meeting their heroes and leading their teams to championships. Remember twelve-year-old Henry Rowngartner, in Rookie of the Year, whose freak mishap lands him a hundred mile-per-hour fastball and a spot as relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs? Or Little Big League, in which youthful Billy Heywood inherits the Minnesota Twins and becomes not only owner but also brilliant manager, bringing his childish mannerisms to professional ball?

And who could possibly forget that final scene in Angels in the Outfield, as Roger and JP step out of the Anaheim dugout and turn a massive crowd into one arm-waving machine, convincing has-been pitcher Mel Clark that he is being blessed with supernatural help that will get him through one final pennant-winning pitch?

These are fantasy scenarios, dreams of pre-adolescent boys, but more recently the issue of youth in major league sports has risen in a more serious manner. Little Johnny won't be graduating directly out of sixth grade to play defenseman for the Flyers, but such phenomena as LeBron James and Maurice Clarett are making full-scale jumps directly out of calculus class and into their careers as professional athletes. These are first-rate players who lead their respective high school teams, young men who have captured the hearts of tens of thousands and whose names and pictures now grace jerseys and posters nationwide. But do they belong where they are?

The answer to this has been the subject of much debate lately, primarily in the field of basketball, where eighteen-year-old players are most prevalent. Unlike baseball, the NBA has no minor leagues, instead opting to let players gain experience from high school and college. More and more often of late, however, little known high schools from little known corners of the nation are beginning to produce fantastic gems; seven foot superstars, prides of their school, who really do believe they have what it takes to compete alongside seasoned pros, who may have up to four years of college play under their belts.

The first thing that must be made perfectly clear in this clash of opinions is that these young men (and, most likely, women soon as well) have every right to pursue the career path of their choice in whatever legal way they care to. At the age of eighteen, in this country, a person is granted most of the legal rights they will ever have, including official jurisdiction over their own affairs and the right to vote. Both of these are meant to symbolize that he (for simplicity, I'm going to imply both males and females with the masculine pronoun) has reached the age where he has been deemed wise enough to make correct choices and mature enough to accept the consequences of incorrect ones. Some have said that it is far too risky for a high-schooler to throw away prospects of further education while placing his or her future on a single hope. What must be realized is that this is a decision that can be made by only one person, the athlete himself. Others can gripe and mumble and cheer and give advice, but they do not ultimately choose for him.

The other thing to take into consideration is that a professional basketball team is not akin to your local YMCA league, where the coach is obliged to make his best effort to give each kid near-equal playing time and is likely to have at least one or two non-stars along with his starters. If a youngster is drafted directly out of high school, there is a reason for it… that he is good enough to attract attention, prestige, and most importantly, fans.

The NFL has fought hard to maintain its ban against anyone under the age of 21, but it seems to me that they are making a marketing error. Novelties attract people to the parks. LeBron filled the seats at Gund Arena, while adolescents Freddy Adu and Michelle Wie have brought scores upon scores of new spectators to their individual sports. (It also seems like there is no cry of outrage against these fantastic youths participating in professional competitions, which I would expect considering the controversy over far older ‘kids' in basketball.) I would think that a player who produces strong revenue for his program is unlikely to have to worry about the longevity of his career.

So, what does all of this boil down to? Basically, it should by all means be legal for high school athletes to enter the professional leagues at the age of eighteen. Whether or not that is the right choice for any particular person… well, that's a choice, like so many others, that only one person can make.

- Darren McRoy, Sophomore, Andover High (Mass.)

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