Ron Seibel

Don’t blame local schools for Big K’s departure

Westside basketball fans had to be disappointed Monday when word came out that the big man who came to play for them just a few months earlier was headed out the door.

Kentrevious Jones, the 6-foot-11 big man who had developed a bit of a shooter’s touch during his time at Central, joined the Westside program at the start of his senior year. But his time with the Seminoles lasted a scant seven games before he decided to transfer again, this time to a prep school in Connecticut.

The reason Westside head coach Josh Grube was given was that Jones’ future collegiate program, Xavier, wanted to see Jones develop more from an academic standpoint.

But let’s not kid ourselves here. Jones’ departure has nothing to do with any shortcomings the Bibb County school district might have. It has everything to do with a system that takes advantage of prospects who want to quickly move on to the next big thing.

If Jones, who certainly has the on-court skill to compete at the collegiate level, has any kind of success at all, he might only spend a year or two at Xavier before turning his sights toward the NBA. And since Xavier might have just a limited about of time with him, the program wants him ready to go from day one.

Asking Jones to transfer to Putnam Science Academy means Xavier wants Jones in the proper mindset. In other words, they want Jones to focus on basketball ... and getting a qualifying test score. Nothing more.

This is a farce, set up by a professional league that pays lip service to the college game without wanting a true partnership.

You can’t blame someone for wanting to make money. If Jones can step into the college game right away, he has a shot at making millions professionally thanks to his height and build. And isn’t college about developing the skills for a professional career, be it in whatever field one chooses?

The one-and-done policy the NBA implemented for its draft, put into place to curb a string a straight-from-high-school dreamers inspired by LeBron James, meant well. It forced prospects to get a year of higher education, to get a taste of the collegiate game before making a decision. But the policy has created a splash-and-dash environment where there is a revolving door of players, players who are still forced to make quick decisions.

That is what happened with Jones. Xavier wants him to produce quickly. And Xavier is using the prep school route to get him there.

I don’t want to pick on Xavier here, because many top-tier programs utilize the prep school system that operates largely independently of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the umbrella organization for associations like the GHSA. But this whole prep school thing goes against the very spirit of what high school athletics should be about: an adjunct to the community educational system, not a exclusive farm system for elite athletes.

A fix for this problem might be coming. The NBA Development League is moving toward a conventional farm system model, with the Atlanta Hawks gaining their own D-League team in 2019 once an arena is built near the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. That should take some of the pressure off college programs to develop NBA stars, as those who want to focus on their game and not academics should be able to go that route.

Ideally, once the D-League is fully developed, the NBA and NCAA could move toward Major League Baseball’s draft model, in which high school players can be drafted and then decide to play either collegiately or professionally. Under that model, the next draft eligibility window would come at the conclusion of a student-athlete’s third collegiate season. Junior college players would also be eligible upon completion of their two-year program, or they could transfer into a four-year program.

A move to something that looks like that system would help clean up a recruiting scene that makes basketball prospects make some difficult decisions, decisions that might take them away from friends and family in the name of trying to secure a lucrative future ... with no guarantees that will actually happen.

This is a problem that won’t be resolved locally. Nor will it be resolved at the GHSA level, where studies are being done right now to determine how to handle in-state transfers. The Kentrevious Jones saga is one that will be resolved in NBA board rooms and at NCAA conventions.

Everyone wants to see Big K thrive. Potentially seeing him play at Philips Arena in an NBA uniform one day will be a thrill. It’s a shame, however, that Middle Georgians will be deprived of the chance to watch his final semester of high school action.

Ron Seibel: 478-744-4222, @RonSeibel