According to media reports, later this week former ESPN 100 point guard Aquille Carr (Baltimore/Princeton Day) is expected to announce his intentions to pursue a professional career next season. Carr hinted on Twitter earlier this week that he plans to skip suiting up for Seton Hall in favor of playing ball overseas.
The move couldn’t be more fraught with risk. I get it, college isn’t for everybody. Some guys don’t mind going to class, some enjoy it and value the diploma, and others just want to ball. It’s your life; do with it as you choose. Having said that, going overseas is much more complex than it sounds.
In 2008, Brandon Jennings, the nation’s No. 1 recruit and a McDonald’s All-American, passed on Arizona (he didn’t qualify) and packed his bags heading for Italy. Jennings signed a three-year, $1.65 million deal with Lottomatica Virtus Roma and then inked a $2 million deal with Under Armour.
Jennings was a pioneer and he parlayed it into a lottery selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2009 NBA Draft. Since Jennings tried the overseas approach following high school, there hasn’t been another player as successful (see Jeremy Tyler) in venturing down that path.
In order to find out what Carr’s going to encounter, we went straight to Jennings for an in-depth look at what it takes to succeed overseas coming out of high school and what he thinks of Carr’s mixtape, highlights-first style? Not only has Jennings gone through the process, but he's also familiar with Carr's game as he checked in on the exciting guard during the 2011-12 NBA lockout.
“His game, when I watch his highlights, it’s real flashy,” Jennings said. “He has that New York, East Coast-style basketball. My advice to him is to learn how to play the pro game. He’s going to have to learn to play over there anyway, learn how to set guys up and tone it down a little bit. They didn’t care about the moves, they cared about getting the job done.”
Jennings said he’s never saw anyone with Carr’s approach or style during his time in Europe. He did see Earl Boykins, another tiny point guard, overseas but noted the differences. “Earl, he’s just as little as Aquille, but Earl just played the game the right way.”
Among the reasons why Carr dropped in the ESPN rankings, in addition to his off-the-court instability, was his game. You have to acknowledge that this kid is a whiz with the ball and is fun to watch if you like highlights. However, it comes at a cost. He’s very into his individual game and often times it comes at the expense of his teammates. In short, he’s a show. We had real concerns about how that translated at the college level. Surely it will be an issue overseas.
“It’s a totally different game,” Jennings said. “If you look at his highlights, he’s really flashy. Over there, they don’t really play that. They’re about getting the job done and getting wins.
“If he plays at the top level, I don’t know how much playing time you’re really going to get. Their point guards over there are making starting point guard money in the NBA. They’re all about winning.”
During his stint in a high-level league in Rome, Jennings averaged a modest 17 minutes a game. He was making millions but only putting up 5.5 points and 2.2 assists a contest. All this coming from a kid who shattered assist records at Oak Hill Academy. Now, Jennings had his share of flair to his game, but he was a kid who won and knew how to play as a scoring point. At least he thought that before he got there.
“The first couple weeks I got there, [I noticed] practices were different,” Jennings said. “Basketball is their life. You play once or twice a week and other than that it’s playing basketball every day. You have practice in the morning and at night. What rocked me was my first away game. I realized they don’t play. They got drums, people singing songs. The refs were down there cheating. You gotta really look in the stands and make sure no one throws anything at you.”
Jennings realized the culture in Italy and brand of basketball the coach wanted him to play wasn’t what he knew. There was massive adjustment on and off the court. Fortunately for him, his mother, Alice, and brother, Terrence Phillips, went off to Italy with him.
“If I wasn’t there with Brandon he would have had a hard time,” Alice Knox said. “I dealt with all the hard stuff. My thing for him was for him just go play basketball. I did the typical everyday things like laundry because they don’t have dryers there. The shopping is difficult because you don’t know how to read their labels. Shopping is different, even trying to buy milk is different if you can’t read what you’re buying.”
If Jennings could make one point and hammer it home to Carr it would be about his support staff. “I feel his supporting cast will be the most important thing,” Jennings said. “Whoever is behind him, who’s taking care of his business, that’s the most important. If I didn’t have my mom and my brother I would have been back in (December).
“Without them I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”
Jennings’ mom, Alice Knox, agreed. “I’m very easy going and laid back. Some people and families can’t go over there and adjust.”
There’s a part of me that gets the sense, even from some college kids, that you sign a contract, get paid, board a plane and play hoops for a living. What they don’t fully grasp is the professional, basketball and cultural impact of going abroad. Imagine getting dumped in a major city without a map or GPS and you’re given a place to stay and time to be at practice. Could you do it? Better yet, could you do it as an 18-year-old thousands of miles away from your family?
Jennings’ situation was way different than Carr’s. He went to Europe to play for a good team in a high-level league. He was a valued prospect, a guy looked at as a future NBA player. Despite his struggles on and off the court, there was an end game and that’s why he went No. 10 overall a year later.
Carr’s situation is different. It’s unlikely he’ll get Jennings-type money, but I’m merely guessing. There’s no guarantee he’ll ink a million-dollar sneaker deal. More likely he’ll sign a small contract, pack his bags and head into the wilderness of International hoops. There will be a lot of people in Baltimore pulling for him, but this journey is all his.
Jennings’ tips for Carr
Needs to be in a great city.
Must have great support (family, agent, etc.).