European-league stigma fading fast for potential future NBAers
At the Jordan Brand All-America Classic in 2007, two years before the organizers added an international game, I took my spot in press row and was surprised to see that a Greek journalist, from
"Did you come here just to see Koufos?" I asked -- Koufos being
"And Calathes!" the writer said, referring to Florida-bound guard
Calathes' connection to the Hellas seemed tenuous then; whereas Koufos' mother is Greek, and he played for the Greek Under-20 team that summer, Calathes' closest Greek-born relative was a great-grandfather, and Nick didn't have dual citizenship. But the ties tightened from there: The Hellenic Basketball Association began dialogue with Calathes' family that same spring, he eventually obtained his Greek passport in 2008, and played for its Under-21 team last summer.
When Calathes arrived back in Greece on Tuesday for the first time since that national-team stint, he was greeted by news cameras at the Athens airport. The finals of the Greek Cup had concluded on Monday night, and the winning club, Panathinaikos -- also the Euroleague champs -- was in the process of finalizing a $1.1 million-per-year contract with the former Florida guard, who had declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore season.
In Greece it was major news that Calathes was arriving. In the U.S. the important news is that there are NBA teams who want -- and fully expect -- Calathes to come back in 2010, and may be willing to use a late first-round pick on him this June in order to retain his rights. Additionally, he may have
Europe was once a punchline that hecklers used on prospects making ill-advised draft decisions ("Get your passport ready for Spain!"), and then a pasture for those who either couldn't make an NBA roster out of college or were released from an NBA team. Calathes is unique in that his European earning power is enhanced by his newly acquired dual citizenship -- there certainly aren't hordes of Greek-Americans in the NCAA ready to follow him to Athens -- but what he's done, in a larger sense, is further the destigmatization of European basketball in the minds of American-born players. No longer is the Old Continent just a place ballers go to disappear.
Consider the international developments involving Americans in the past year alone: In July 2008, Arizona recruit
Calathes' deal with Panathinaikos leaked in late May, just before Clemson sophomore
In three years, it's likely that Childress, Jennings, Calathes and Tyler will all be on NBA rosters, as evidence that various European routes can be taken without derailing an NBA career. Childress hasn't excelled for Olympiakos, but he still has a spot in the NBA should he want to return stateside. It's unclear whether Europe enhanced Jennings' development -- he played limited minutes in Rome, some not even at point guard -- but the fact that he's probably going to be a top-10 pick later this month is a decent endorsement of the decision. If Calathes, who, as a source in his camp explained, "had plenty of options, unlike Jennings did," completes the NCAA-Greece-NBA path, it'll only give further credence to studying abroad.
In the case of Oglesby, who had starred on the Norweigan U-21 team but wasn't going to be drafted, his decision was much less shocking than it would have been earlier in the decade. Imagine if
Elite Europeans aren't exactly flocking to train in our college system. For the scores of them who've been drafted in the first round in this decade -- 37 in all -- just one, Lithuanian
Just this week, a message-board rumor surfaced that Kentucky's biggest recruit, point guard