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NBA age limit would benefit young athletes

As you sit reading this column, the NBA Draft has passed and a plethora of underclassmen are well on their way to becoming millionaires several times over.

But this may be the last year that a player the age of your average first or second year at Virginia signs a multi-million dollar deal. NBA Commissioner David Stern wants to place an age limit on players coming into the league.

And I for one, think it's a terrific idea.

In a previous column, which ran April 7, I said that I could not fault an underclassman for leaving early because of the allure that the NBA's big bucks carries. I still believe that.

However, for every youngster who leaves early to attain dizzying levels of fame and success, there's another who falls flat. Everybody knows who Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant are, and that they entered the pros right out of high school.

But for every Kevin and Kobe, there's several hard-luck stories. While Kobe was being drafted by Charlotte, Taj McDavid, a Palmetto High standout from Williamston, S.C., never heard his name called. At the time, his coach Lawton Williams offered the following insight on his player's skills to Slam! Magazine: "Taj could shoot a bit, and he could jump a bit, but neither that great." Talk about a winning endorsement ... let's move on, shall we?

Garnett and Bryant are the only high schoolers of the recent crop of early defections to make a name for themselves. Portland drafted Jermaine O'Neal in 1996, the same year as Bryant, but he has languished on the bench ever since. And he plays for Portland, where apparently everybody gets playing time. Well, everybody but O'Neal, I suppose.

Three players who declared out of high school were taken in the 1998 Draft. Indiana took Al Harrington with their first round pick. But on a veteran Pacer squad, Harrington had about as much impact on Indiana's success this season as the ballboy.

What about Rashard Lewis, who left Alief Elsik High in Texas for the bright lights and deep pockets of the NBA? He went to Seattle with the Sonics' second round pick, and scored a whopping 2.4 points-per-game this year.

And Korleone Young, who went to Detroit out of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia? He played in three games for the Pistons. For those of you keeping score, that's as many games as his stints on the injured list. Think he wishes he could go back and rethink his future?

Thirty-nine underclassmen entered this year's draft. That total included 11 sophomores, five freshmen and a pair of high schoolers.

An age limit would lessen the number of Korleone Youngs and Taj McDavids--18 and 19 year olds who gamble with their future and lose big. Maybe then those sophomores and freshmen wouldn't be so quick to jump ship the minute one seedy-looking scout walks up to him and utters the magical words, "potential first-round pick."

An age limit would also improve the quality of play in the bump-and-grind hack-fest that has become the NBA. After a season where the phrases, "biggest blowout in team history" and "lowest scoring output in team history" became regular occurrences, the league is finally trying to retool the game. And an age limit should be a part of that.

Will a restriction on freshmen, sophomores and high schoolers ever come to pass? I certainly hope so. But, you must remember we're dealing with the NBA here. When the Players Association--the most disgruntled group of millionaires in the world--gets wind of this, Patrick Ewing and his phalanx of crybabies will no doubt start another public outcry.

But what's more important: to get that point guard or star center his millions at 18 or 19? Or to make sure he doesn't turn out to be another Taj McDavid?