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Across the Atlantic Part II

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If Jennings' overseas move is a success...could others follow?

If Jennings' overseas move is a success...could others follow?

"With the first pick in the 2010 draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select John Wall of Tau Ceramica."

For those who have never heard of Wall, he’s one of the top high school prospects who has drawn comparisons to newly minted Chicago Bull, Derrick Rose. Has he made overtures about joining Brandon Jennings overseas?

Well…not at this point, and Wall is currently considering a college career at Baylor, Ok State or Oregon.

However should grades hamper his acceptance to one of the programs above, or should he decide to forego school all together in search of the almighty dollar (or almighty Euro Dollar in this case), then for the first time in NBA history, Wall has another choice; to play overseas for a season before declaring for the NBA draft.

On Monday Howland discussed some of the issues with NBA players heading to Europe and that got me thinking about things from a few different angles, most importantly the effect on the NBA’s college recruitment system.

Brandon Jennings, the future NBA guard who was academically ineligible to head to Arizona, has already kicked the door wide-open by signing with Virtus Roma of the Italian League. Many high school kids will be watching the Jennings situation very carefully as if he turns in a good year in Europe and still comes out as a top 5 pick (he’s currently projected by Draftexpress.com as the fifth-best prospect and the fourth-best by ESPN.com) then more and more high schoolers could be foregoing the US College system.

And really, I think this should be much more of a concern for the NBA then the current defection of players like Josh Childress. Yes Childress’ move might have come as a surprise considering his level of talent, however players of his caliber leaving the league will probably still be few and far between, much like Howland discussed.

But for those high schoolers who want to find a loophole in David Stern’s age requirement, this is it.

The NCAA now could be facing a huge drain on their talent, as even the one-year wonders like Carmello Anthony and Derrick Rose could very well forego the college system all together in search of overseas riches. Remember, even though there are only a handful of teams overseas with the financial backing to sign top NBA talent, there are also only a handful of high schoolers of the Greg Oden ilk, and therefore the pairing is much more realistic than a situation where current NBAers flock to Europe. As is the case with Jennings, the top European and overseas clubs could offer such high school players contracts with escape clauses after year one which would help to ease any concerns they may have about being "locked-in."

The effect of such a trend would be two-pronged; on one hand, colleges would have a tough time competing with the financial incentives given by the overseas clubs and on the other, the US grassroots basketball system could take a major hit. If the top talent begins leaving high school before even Grade 12 to play overseas, that’s certainly not what USA Basketball had in mind when it began trying to upgrade their program a few years ago.

It could also turn the NBA draft into a due diligence nightmare.

Even with escape clauses, how many NBA GM’s on draft night wouldn’t be sweating just a bit harder about selecting a player under contract in Europe? With the limitations of the NBA rookie pay scale, it’s quite possible that foreign kids wouldn’t be the only ones threatening to pull a "Fran Vasquez."

No, in all likelihood however North American kids’ dreams to play in the NBA would overtake much of this threat, but admittedly it would be a concern. With the strength of the Euro, it’s not impossible that a top high school star wouldn’t decide to forego heading to somewhere like Memphis or Minnesota to stick around in a basketball hotbed like Spain for more money.

And that brings me to the second thought I’ve had concerning this "players heading to Europe" situation. From a basketball purist standpoint, such a move could actually be good for everyone. Without the "one-and-done" talent, there would potentially be more parity at the Division 1 level of college ball, both in terms of high school recruitment and on-court play.

On top of this, if fringe players in the NBA, or even medium talents like Josh Childress, start heading to Europe, this would strengthen the talent base of the NBA itself. Truly only the best would remain and the proverbial cellar-dwelling clubs of the league might find themselves ever shorter on talent. As previously mentioned, if you’re a young player finishing your rookie contract and have yet to bust open the doors of the league, would you rather be a fringe player on a club like Memphis or Charlotte…or get star level treatment in a warm climate with basketball-crazy fans in a place like Spain. Oh…and for more money than you’d ever dream of making in the Association.

This is by no means a cut and dry situation, but admittedly it does make the Jennings and Childress situations quite intriguing. If things work out for both, who’s to say that many others won’t follow in their footsteps?

Keeping on the overseas topic, we now turn our attention back to the Raptors who’s 13th, and reportedly final, signee was officially announced yesterday. The press release from the Raptors regarding Will Solomon was as follows:

RAPTORS SIGN FREE AGENT WILL SOLOMON

The Toronto Raptors announced Monday they have signed free-agent guard Will Solomon. Per team policy, financial details were not disclosed.

Solomon, 30, has played the past two seasons in Istanbul, Turkey for Fenerbahce Ulker. He averaged 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 13 regular season games last season. In Euroleague Top 16 play, he contributed 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in six games. He had a high of 28 points in 32 minutes versus Tau Ceramica.

Solomon, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, was selected 33rd overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies. He appeared in 62 games with the
Memphis Grizzlies in the 2001-02 season, averaging 5.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 14.2 minutes.

Solomon has played overseas since 2002. He spent the 2002-03 season in Greece with Aris Thessaloniki. He moved to Israel and Hapoel Jerusalem in 2003-04. In 2004-05, he played in Turkey for Efes Pilsen Istanbul. He joined current Raptor Anthony Parker on Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2005-06 and in 2006 he signed with his current club, Fenerbahce Ulker.

The native of East Hartford, Connecticut averaged 15.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 94 career games in three seasons at Clemson University. He entered the NBA Draft following his junior season. He earned first-team All-ACC honours as a sophomore and second-team as a junior. He led the ACC in scoring as a sophomore at 20.9 points. He finished fourth in the conference in his junior campaign at 19.7 points.

Solomon finished his career second all-time in school history in made three-point field goals (214).

Hopefully Raptors fans see more of this from Solomon next year...

Hopefully Raptors fans see more of this from Solomon next year...

No doubt some interesting parallels both in terms of his start in the NBA (with a Canadian franchise) and having previously played with Anthony Parker. As I commented on Monday, I remember Solomon from his days at Clemson where he was a great scorer and unfortunately was tagged with the dreaded "combo guard" label entering the draft.

However a combo guard, and one with a great amount of basketball experience, was just what the doctor ordered for BC and co. and now it looks like the roster is set for next year. We’ll still probably see a few training camp invites (perhaps CJ Giles and one other prospect) but it looks like Toronto will go 13 deep into next year.

Also from the Raptors’ PR department:

ARMSTRONG AND RAUTINS TO RETURN AS TELEVISION ANALYSTS

The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday that Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins will return as the colour analysts on the team's television
broadcasts for the 2008-09 season. They will join Matt Devlin, who was named July 9 as the team's new television play-by-play announcer.

"These two broadcasters will bring Raptors fans the in-depth analysis that they have come to expect on all of our game broadcasts," said Chris Hebb, senior vice-president of broadcast and content for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "They have the experience and knowledge to deliver a compelling story every night and we are thrilled to have them returning to the fold."

The upcoming season marks Armstrong's 11th with the organization and the 14th for Rautins. Armstrong will serve as the analyst on all TSN games and appear regularly on SportsCentre as the network's NBA Insider.

Rautins will handle the duties for contests on CBC and The Score, while working alongside Rod Black as studio analyst on TSN's NBA Studio shows.

Both Armstrong and Rautins will continue to add their expertise to various programs on Raptors NBA TV, including pre- and post-game analysis.

Armstrong and Devlin have worked together in the past calling NCAA and WNBA games. Armstrong began his broadcasting career as a radio
analyst for the Raptors following a successful 14-year coaching career at the collegiate level.

In addition to his duties with the Raptors, Armstrong is a regular NBA commentator in Canada and a television analyst for NCAA basketball on
CSTV, Comcast, Empire Sports Network, Fox Sports, MASN TV, New York/MSG, ESPN's regional coverage and the Atlantic 10 Conference TV Network. His commentating also extended to the WNBA where he worked for MSG on New York Liberty telecasts for two seasons.

Rautins has been on the Canadian basketball scene for almost 30 years as a player, broadcaster and ambassador of the game. In addition to his broadcasting portfolio, Rautins is the head coach of the Canadian Senior Men's National Basketball Team.

A 23-year veteran of television, radio and newspaper journalism, Rautins has worked Syracuse University basketball games on both radio and TV and has also broadcast NCAA, NBA, and NBDL basketball for ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN Regional. Rautins covered the 1994 World Championships for CTV.

Rautins graduated with honours from the prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse in 1983. His broadcasting career tipped off as radio analyst for Syracuse basketball and as a CBC radio broadcaster announcing games from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Great news that Jack is back and really, with the pieces all in place from on-court to the broadcast booth, I’m ready for the season to begin now!

However we’re still a good few months away and so in the meantime, we’ll have to settle with Rod Artest trades and entertainment from the likes of Rod Benson (who’s been doing some blogging on his recent experiences with the Raptors’ Vegas team) and the latest edition of the Carnival of the NBA…hosted by the one and only JE Skeets.

Enjoy.

FRANCHISE