First it was Brandon Jennings, then heralded class of 2011 recruit Jeremy Tyler, and now the Rivals.com #17 overall player from the class of 2009 – Latavious Williams. Therein completes the list of talented individuals that have opted to play overseas in the last year rather than pursue a playing career in college. While Jennings cannot necessarily be blamed for his decision to play in Italy due to a failure to be cleared academically to play for Arizona this past season, the decisions by Tyler (a high school junior at the time of his decision) and Williams leave us scratching our heads.
Sure, Tyler has the potential to be an impact basketball player. He’s 6’11, loaded with upside and will make plenty of money before he would have even received his diploma. But playing overseas, just as Jennings discovered, is much more difficult than anticipated by a confident 17-year old who has never faced such competition in his life. The odds are that we never hear from Jeremy Tyler again. As for Williams, the Memphis recruit was reportedly 50/50 to be cleared to play this season for new coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers. This is a different situation than Jennings, a player who entered the final year of high school as the top-ranked player in the nation, who struggled mightily in Italy. Williams is certainly talented, but nowhere near as talented as Jennings, yet reportedly Williams had Jennings in mind when he made his decision.
“It was a difficult decision,” Williams said in his press release. “But after consulting with a number of people, and taking my family situation into consideration, playing overseas is the best move for me.” According to Williams’ consultant Trey Godfrey, Williams made his decision with money in mind: “He made the decision when taking into account his family situation,” said Godfrey, “He wants to put himself in a situation where he can help out and he saw this as a good opportunity.” He had been considering the move overseas even during the recruiting process with Memphis and other schools. China, of all places, is one possible destination for Williams.
The impact on Memphis is glaring. Williams was rumored to be a potential starter for the Tigers due to the departure of both Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart from the frontcourt. Otherwise, Angel Garcia, Pierre Henderson-Niles and Miami JC transfer Will Coleman will need to lead the way inside. The strength of the Tigers should remain in the backcourt with Duke transfer Elliot Williams, three-point threat Doneal Mack, point guard Willie Kemp and the emerging Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon.
As for the impact on Williams, it could be tragic. While he could certainly prove us wrong, it’s hard to see Williams succeeding overseas playing in that type of competition. He’s not a supreme talent like Jennings who can struggle and still maintain his status as a NBA lottery pick due to upside and potential. He could be severely exposed overseas and barely end up a second-round pick in the league, if he’s fortunate. Due to the complicated eligibility process imposed by the NCAA and the allure of bringing in early cash outside of school, look for this troubling trend to continue as long as only one year of college is required prior to the NBA.