By Michael Rosenberg
November 12, 2009

One by one, they'll be going through the act -- either this week during the early signing period or next spring: Pick a college. Get ready to go there for a year. Make David Stern happy. Pretend they want to do it.

Some of them need college as much as Tiger Woods needs to play from the white tees. It doesn't matter. The NBA has decided that college is important for everybody. After all, imagine how great Kobe Bryant would be if he'd gone to college. He might be ... the exact same player he is today.

It is a joke, this idea that a small group of talented young men needs to spend a year living in a dorm when they could be making millions. It contributes to the mockery of education that is major-college basketball. It's unfair to the players.

But hey, it's good for the NBA, which is why Stern wanted the system in the first place. He said he wanted his scouts out of high school gyms, and that players would benefit from going to college, but this was always a business decision.

Stern is one of the best commissioners in the history of sports, and an underrated key to his success is that he understands his job is to promote his sport on every level, not just the NBA.

Stern understood that, while fans sometimes debate the merits of college basketball vs. the NBA, the college game is a gold mine for the pros. Players who are not yet good enough to play in the NBA can become national celebrities in college.

Casual baseball fans knew very little about Matt Wieters, the Orioles catching prospect, when Wieters made it to Baltimore this year. But every basketball fan knew Greg Oden and Kevin Durant when they entered the league.

And since Oden and Durant were so gifted, they made college basketball a lot more fun to watch during their one year in Stern's purgatory.

There is only one problem with the system.

It is un-American.

Does any other segment of society work like this? Did Miley Cyrus have to go sing in a collegiate a cappella group before selling an album?

I mean, doctors have to go to med school and lawyers must go to law school, but I'm not sure that's the same thing as spending a year learning Rick Barnes' offense.

Unfortunately for Stern, you can't stop capitalism; you can only hope to contain it. Appropriately, the way to circumvent this un-American system is to get the heck out of America.

Brandon Jennings, one of the top players in the high school class of 2008, ditched the University of Arizona to play in Europe for a year before entering the NBA draft. Not surprisingly, in the twisted world of college sports, Jennings was criticized for the decision (it should be noted that Jennings didn't qualify academically to play at Arizona). He was supposed to bring glory and money to Arizona before getting his piece of the pie.

Now Jennings is with the Milwaukee Bucks and is a leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year.

Of course, you can also point to former high school phenom Jeremy Tyler, who tried to copy Jennings' path, as evidence that everybody needs to go to college. Tyler actually skipped his senior year of high school to go play in Israel and prepare for the 2011 NBA draft.

New York Times reporter Pete Thamelrecently wrote about Tyler's struggles in Israel: "The consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is. So enamored with his vast potential, Tyler has not developed the work ethic necessary to tap it."

It is a sad story, but you know what? Of all the rights we hold inalienable, at the top of the list should be the right to screw up. Freedom's just another word for "your money's yours to lose."

I'm not saying everybody should go pro. I'm saying players have the right to choose. And while the NBA policy is undeniably good for college basketball as an entertainment product, it is still bad for the sport.

Coaches recruit players who have zero intention of reaching their junior year, let alone graduating. Some coaches limit their freshmen's playing time to hide them from the NBA. Then the coaches can squeeze at least one more year out of them. Kentucky's John Calipari has used the NBA rule to his advantage -- recruits know he'll showcase them for a year, then bid them a fond farewell.

Calipari did it with Derrick Rose and he'll do it this year with John Wall. Wall has a year to get famous and get out. He belongs in David Stern's league. He shouldn't have to get there Stern's way.

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