This was 20 years ago, at the fabled ABCD Camp. Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball visionary who seemed capable of seeing around a whole lot of corners, had just told a camp coach to make that big sophomore on his team the point guard since somehow nobody was passing the kid the ball.
“This kid has a chance to be an icon,” Vaccaro had told me right after that, and since the teenager in question was LeBron James, the words had plausibility even at the time.
That same conversation, Vaccaro talked about how nobody should be surprised if LeBron tested the NBA rules at the time and declared for the NBA after his junior year of high school.
That didn’t happen, but here we are, with good reason to place a phone call to Vaccaro in California. The question, which Vaccaro said he had been waiting for, was about the possibility of Jalen Duren, the former Roman Catholic High star big man, and whether he might skip his own senior year of high schoolto reclassify and head for college for a season, or go to the G League or go overseas.
Vaccaro was up on the news. The man who once had convinced Nike to invest their bucks and marketing power in this guy Michael Jordan (and later battled Nike on behalf of Adidas) knew all about the 6-foot-10 Duren, who had played this past season at Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
Adam Zagoria, as plugged into the summer hoop scene as any writer in the country, reported Friday that Duren is “expected” to reclassify, offering a list of possible college destinations that includes Villanova and Penn State, but also, according to a source, the possibility of a $1 million payout from the G League Select team to follow that route for a year.
One source close to Duren said no decision about reclassifying has been made yet.
A tweet put out Friday from Team Final, Duren’s Philly-based travel team, said, “Jalen Duren and his family have not made any decisions on next year. He just wrapped up his junior season at @MVABasketball and is concentrating on getting better. Anything on social media is fake news!!”
Duren may not be LeBron, but he’s the exact player who would have all these options and be considering his path.
Let’s face it, you don’t leave your local high school to go to a national prep powerhouse if you’re not at least thinking about the best path to the pros. Does anybody think another year of high school would change the arc of Duren’s future career? He’s already rated the top center in his class. This isn’t implausible stuff.
“What scouts are telling me, he’d go one to seven in the [NBA] draft this year,” Vaccaro said of Duren.
There’s the crux of it, right there. Duren isn’t eligible for this year’s draft. If he goes to high school for his senior year, he won’t be eligible for next year’s draft. It had looked like the NBA was going to get rid of the requirement that currently makes prospects wait a year after graduating from high school to be eligible for the NBA, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Meanwhile, the idea of reclassifying has become a thing all over sports, moving up the clock.
“Nobody thought of that,” Vaccaro said of the idea of reclassifying back in LeBron’s time, getting to college ahead of schedule. In football, a version of it is a regular thing, players leaving high school a semester early, still playing their senior season, but getting to campus for spring ball. Would that be so different than somebody like Duren getting to college a year early? Marvin Bagley already did it, getting to Duke a year early, then getting to the NBA a year after that.
A report by West Coast writer Frank Burlison on Wednesday noted that Duren “could” reclassify and go to college. Burlison had been in Las Vegas, where Duren had been named the outstanding player of the Pangos All-American Camp.
Zagoria’s report noted that Duren has listed Villanova, Michigan, Miami, Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, UCLA, Penn State, and Memphis as his top nine schools.
“Kobe was the one who broke the mold,” Vaccaro said of whether a short stint in college was necessary for a pro future, since Bryant had every college option under the sun available to him but chose the NBA.
More recently, options have begun expanding, going overseas, and now the G League, with the salary structure probably rising on that front.
Seeing around more corners, Vaccaro, after consulting with attorneys, had suggested to former UCLA All-American Ed O’Bannon that he and others sue over their postcollege marketing rights, which has led to where we are now: the NCAA losing the right to keep athletes from profiting from their name, image and likeness.
How this all relates to a big man who played a couple of years of hoops at Broad and Vine is still to be determined. Just realize that nobody who saw Duren in the Philadelphia Catholic League would question the scouting assessment that has made its way to the ears of the man who first put a shoe contract in front of Michael Jordan.
“I was on top of it before there was a bottom to it,” Vaccaro said of the whole subject of value, and who has a right to determine it.