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NBA draft risky for freshmen prospects

Unlike any other draft in recent NBA history, the 2008 draft includes many college freshmen and sophomore prospects hoping to sign a multi-million dollar contract.

The top 10 projected players, likely to be drafted by teams that are looking to rebuild after lackluster seasons, are between the ages of 19 and 20.

Teams are putting unnecessary pressure on 19-year-olds to play at management’s highest expectations – to turn a losing team into a winning team in just one or two years.

The life of an NBA athlete can seem overwhelming but hard to pass up for college athletes living in dorms with a full course load. The draft offers a possible lifestyle shift – a chance at $10 million over three or four years.

Young athletes gamble with their livelihoods when they decide to enter the draft instead of receiving a bachelor’s degree.

College athletes who leave school early in hopes of getting drafted lose their draft eligibility and enter the league as free agents if their names aren’t called on draft day. This leaves such athletes in a difficult spot, as teams are only allowed a select number of free agent contracts.

The NBA has been in existence since 1946, and the billions of dollars it receives from ticket and merchandise sales around the world guarantee it will be around for years to come. Athletes, however, should have a degree to fall back on if they miss out on getting drafted.

NBA success stories who were drafted in the top five right out of high school or spent only one or two seasons on the college level include Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy), Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (St. Vincent-St. Mary High School) and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul (Wake Forest University).

But the NBA has also seen disappointments who didn’t live up to the hype or couldn’t survive the pressure that goes with being the No. 1 or No. 2 draft pick. Grizzlies center Kwame Brown was drafted No. 1 out of high school in 2001, but now averages less than five points per game. Teammate Darko Milicic, who was drafted No. 2 from Serbia in 2003, only averages 7.2 points per game.

It has been more than five years since Brown and Milicic were drafted and they have not yet made a significant impact with the Grizzlies, who have managed to win only 22 games this season.

At this year’s NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, more than sixty players from around the nation played for team scouts to prove they can make it in the NBA. USF center Kentrell Gransberry was among them. Also at the camp were projected first and second overall draft picks Kansas State forward Michael Beasley and Memphis guard Derrick Rose.

Teams such as the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, who have been to the playoffs and won championships in the past, hope Beasley and Rose will be the players to turn a losing franchise into a championship team.

“I would love to go to (Miami),” Rose said. “I would love to be one of the people that can help them rebuild for the future.”

Despite playing college basketball for only one year, Beasley said his basketball maturity surpasses his biological age.

“I just turned 19 years old in January,” Beasley said. “I’m still a kid. On the basketball side of things, I’m 30 years old.”

It wasn’t until 2006 that the NBA enacted the rule that players must be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school to enter the draft.

Thirteen freshmen have declared for the draft this season, all with the hopes of becoming the next best success story in the NBA.

“I think for all of us this is a dream come true,” former Southern California guard O.J. Mayo said. “We all have a dream to go to the NBA, no matter what (draft) number.”

Mayo spent one season at USC before declaring for the draft. Like the rest of the athletes, Mayo said he wants to come into the league with a winning attitude and sees being drafted as a great opportunity few people get to experience.

“It’s been a lifelong dream to play in the NBA,” Mayo said. “The opportunity to wear an NBA uniform and represent the (league) as a professional basketball player, it’s a great opportunity to fulfill your dreams.”