From high school to NBA payday? Why not?
Hockey players like Sidney Crosby can turn pro at 17. Why doesn't the NBA allow high school players to do the same?

The National Hockey League held its annual draft last week and, as expected, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected teenage phenom Sidney Crosby with the No. 1 pick.

Crosby, who turns 18 this week, is already being compared to NHL all-time greats Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. He is also being touted as the face of the new NHL, as it tries to win back its fan base after last year's lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.

As the savior of the league, Crosby is in a position to earn prime-time money as a teenager. He will be marketed to the masses with all of the vigor that the NHL pooh-bahs can muster.

At this time next year, prep basketball star Greg Oden should be in the same position. The 7'0" high school prodigy should be celebrating his status as the No. 1 pick in the 2006 National Basketball Association draft. He should be in a position to earn several millions of dollars in endorsements and begin his professional career.

However, Greg Oden will not get that opportunity for at least one year.

In the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a minimum age requirement was instituted. Players must be at least 19 years old or be out of high school at least one year before they can enter the draft. The new rule basically forbids American high school players from entering the NBA Draft during the life of the new agreement.

This is not a good ruling, especially considering that teenage athletes in other sports have been excelling for years in the professional ranks and earning millions of dollars in the process. It has also happened in the NBA. League commissioner David Stern has been pushing for an age limit of 20 years old for several years, but his actions seemed to be like a case of trying to squeeze the toothpaste back in the bottle.

In the past 10 years since Kevin Garnett made the jump from the preps to the pros, several other prep stars have reached star status in the NBA. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Tracy McGrady, and Rashad Lewis have become household names in this country. The likes of Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, Darius Miles and Tyson Chandler are also productive players in the league.

It is especially galling when you hear talk of Sidney Crosby becoming the next Gretzky at 17, or when people are practically begging female golf phenom Michelle Wie to turn professional before she is old enough to get her driver's license. You couldn't watch 30 minutes of the 2004 Summer Olympics without seeing a commercial featuring American teenage swimming star Michael Phelps.

However, when it comes to young African-American basketball players getting ready to earn, everyone gets into an uproar. When young men have the talent to play ball and earn a lucrative living at 18 and people are lining up for their services, they should have that opportunity.

Deciding to go to college is great and all that, but not every kids wants to pursue higher education, and many athletes are getting weary of everyone else making tons of money off their hard work and sweat while they cannot receive one red cent under NCAA rules.

While it's true that not every kid coming out of high school will be the next LeBron James, NBA execs should do a little policing of themselves. They are not obligated to draft every high school kid in the first round and give them a guaranteed contract. Michael Jordan did not have to draft Kwame Brown with the No. 1 pick in 2001.

Change was quite apparent in the most recent draft in June when six of the eight high school players were drafted in the second round. That means they must prove themselves and make the team to get a contract. They can also play and develop in the National Basketball Developmental League, which was also another provision under the new agreement. If that were to happen for two or three years, the kids who are not ready won't be so eager to make a premature jump to the league. They will go to college and develop their games.

Greg Oden recently committed to Ohio State. He may go to college or he may opt for prep school for a year until he turns 19 and take a shoe deal. Those are his options at this point. He should also have the option of whether to enter the pros out of high school and earn his certain fortune.

For Oden not to have that opportunity is a gross injustice.

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