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Should high school players be eligible for the N.B.A. draft?

The National Basketball Association requires draft picks to be at least 19 and a year out of high school

There are disaster stories of players entering the N.B.A. draft from high school and failing spectacularly. But as tragic as these stories are, they are the exception.

A study by Michael McCann, a professor at Vermont Law School who is an expert on sports and legal issues, found that of the 21 high school players who declared for the draft from 1975 to 2001, four became superstars—Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal, and Tracy McGrady—and only four never made it to the N.B.A.

The results were similar with those drafted from the classes of 2002 through 2005, when the ban was put in place: Of the 26 players drafted, 20 were still playing through last season and three have become superstars: Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James.

The common argument that players drafted straight from high school are more prone to get into trouble because of their age has also proved wrong. According to a 2005 study by McCann, more than half of the 84 pro players recently arrested had spent four years on a university campus; only 4 percent of them never went to college (even though players without any college experience made up 8 percent of the league population).

As for high school students not being ready for pro ball, Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com found that from 1996 to 2006 players drafted out of high school had better efficiency ratings—a measure of overall play based on a player's statistics—during their rookie seasons than players drafted as college juniors and seniors.

One thing is clear: Raising the minimum age to 19 hasn't helped the players. Superstars may go to college for a year, but for most it has nothing to do with getting an education.

Buzz Bissinger
Author, Friday Night Lights

The N.B.A.'s minimum-age requirement for players seeking to be drafted is, quite simply, good business for the league.

The policy, which requires that a player be at least 19 and a year beyond the graduation of his high school class, is designed to make sure N.B.A. teams use their extremely valuable draft picks to acquire the players most likely to improve their teams' performance. Before the current rule took effect in 2005, our teams had no choice but to evaluate high school players who had never competed at an elite level.

Evaluating young talent in any sport can be extremely difficult; by increasing the minimum entry age, we gave teams at least one year to evaluate players in a more competitive setting. That can be in college, in the N.B.A. Development League, or in an international league. In those settings, players have the opportunity to mature as well, making them better able to deal with rigorous playing and travel schedules in the N.B.A.

While a few N.B.A.-ready players have emerged right out of high school, it still took them time to grow their game. Most high school stars aren't ready to play in the N.B.A. Between 1995 and 2005, nine high school players who entered the draft went unpicked; if they had planned for a basketball life between high school and the N.B.A., they might have been in a better position to succeed in the draft the following year, or to succeed in life.

We believe that requiring an additional year beyond high school strikes a fair balance between the needs of our teams and the desire of young athletes to begin their professional careers as soon as possible. The policy has improved players' chances for success and made our league stronger.

David Stern
N.B.A. Commissioner

(The New York Times Upfront, Vol. 142, March 15, 2010)