Maurice Clarett's former lawyer Michael McCann has been assembling evidence that the NBA's new age restriction may not be fair. He has compiled two studies that I know of, both of which have been mentioned here before:
One that shows high-schoolers have succeeded extraordinarily as NBA basketball players.
Another showing that NBA players straight from high school are less likely to have brushes with the law.
So, that all seems pretty convincing to me. But then the other day I had an "aha!" moment. Perhaps the real victims of letting high-schoolers into the NBA is not the players who make it, but those who declare for the draft and never get picked. In theory, these kids could have gone from top NCAA prospects to down-and-out basketball vagabonds thanks to a misguided dream of skipping college for untold riches. Perhaps the NBA could make a case that it would disallow youngsters to prevent this.
I e-mailed Michael McCann to see if he had accounted for the undrafted high-schoolers. I have edited his e-mails slightly for length, but he responded as follows:
I only account for players who have been on NBA rosters. If I expanded the list beyond that -- say, to all amateur basketball players -- then I wouldn't be able to research it with any certainty. Moreover, if I expanded it beyond the NBA, then it wouldn't be as relevant to the legal issues pertaining to the collective bargaining of the NBA and the Players' Association.
In terms of high schoolers who weren't drafted, there really haven't been that many. In fact, from 1995 to 2004, only 36 high schoolers were eligible to be picked, and of that group, 30 were drafted (see:
Interestingly, only 1 of the undrafted 6 appears to have gotten in trouble with the law: Ellis Richardson, who was convicted on robbery charges. Tony Key was suspended by his coach while he played for Los Angeles City College, but, to my knowledge, he has not run afoul of the law. None of the remaining four (to my knowledge) have been charged with any crimes: Jackie Butler (who IS included in my study since he played briefly for the Knicks last year), DeAngelo Collins, Taj McDavid, and Lenny Cooke.
In terms of those six guys, it's not clear they would have even gone to college. That is certainly the case with Taj McDavid, who wasn't recruited by any Division I schools (he only played in the equivalent of "Division III" high school basketball in South Carolina) -- in that respect, declaring for the NBA Draft came at no cost to him, since he was only forfeiting the eligibility for something which he wasn't good enough to obtain (in effect, his declaring for the NBA Draft out of high school imposed the same cost on him that would have been imposed on you or me had we declared out of high school: nothing).
Also, it is possible Jackie Butler may have made the right choice by declaring, even though he wasn't drafted -- he did play in the NBA last year, and it remains to be seen how his career develops.
As to the other 4, they probably should have gone to college, if it was an option for them (and I'm not sure that it was). DeAngelo Collins suffered a pretty bad knee injury while playing for a Turkish team. After he recovered, the Cavaliers brought him into their rookie camp, but he was still suffering from that knee injury. I don't what he's doing now or even if he is still playing basketball. Maybe if he hadn't gotten hurt, he would have ultimately made the NBA. But we'll probably never know. These guys careers are so vulnerable to physicial injury.
The guy who really shouldn't have declared was Lenny Cooke. I think he considered himself a rival of LeBron after Cooke allegedly outplayed him in a high school all-star game, and maybe that gave Cooke a skewed sense of his chances for jumping from high school to the NBA.
You can read more about this kind of stuff at the Sports Law Blog McCann writes with Greg Skidmore.