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Young NBA hopefuls should try Europe, not college

Two unrelated news items might conspire to dramatically change college basketball and the way the NBA conducts its annual draft.

1. Spain’s Pau Gasol, 21, won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

2. An unidentified Italian pro team is allegedly dangling $9 million in front of the nose of high school junior LeBron James, the prep phenom.

If it’s true that James can earn $9 million for skipping his senior year of high school by studying basketball abroad, the young man would be insanely foolish to turn down the offer.

If I were a high schooler with pro potential, I would offer myself up to a pro team over in Europe. Rich kids study abroad all the time. You’ve heard of foreign-exchange students, right? Why not apply that principle to basketball, take a couple of semesters off and go overseas and pursue your hoop dreams for some major cheddar? James could afford to move his parents to Italy. Didn’t Kobe Bryant spend some formative years in Italy? It didn’t hurt him.

In case you haven’t noticed, the best place to prepare for the NBA isn’t some inner-city park. It’s overseas in some faraway land where they produce Pau Gasols the way we used to produce Moses Malones.

The top pick in this year’s draft may very well be some 7-footer named Yao.

High school prospects should turn the foreign leagues into a high-paying CBA. The competition overseas will do more to prepare a youngster for the NBA than college basketball.

I’ve long contended the best way to fix the NBA’s decaying product – which is a result of the influx of young, untrained talent – is by instituting some sort of draft pay scale that rewarded a player’s basketball education.

Follow me? If you have a master’s degree, you generally get a starting salary higher than someone who just has a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree or high school diploma.

Why can’t the NBA pay incoming rookies with four years of basketball study in college or overseas substantially more than a college dropout who enters the league?

This seems so simple. It would give college players incentive to stay in school and high schoolers uninterested in a college education incentive to study the game abroad.