ESPN Insider- O.J. to the NBA?



The 2007 NBA draft class already looks like one of the deepest in years.

It may be getting even deeper. The two top high school seniors in the country -- O. J. Mayo and Bill Walker -- look like they might have an argument that they're eligible for next year's draft.

How can that be, given the league's recent age restriction that prohibits players from making the leap to the NBA straight from high school?

The devil is in the details.

Article X:I(b)(i) of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) sets forth the eligibility requirements for the draft for American players.

To be eligible for the draft, a player must meet two requirements:

(1) "The player is or will be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held,"


(2) "At least one NBA Season has elapsed since the player's graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school)."

The ambiguity lies in the "would have graduated" language of part 2 of the requirement.

Walker and Mayo are both one year older than a traditional high school senior. If they decide to drop out of high school and not graduate, they could argue that they "would have graduated" in 2006.

While both Walker and Mayo have given strong indications that they're going to college (see this report by Andy Katz), several sources close to the situation say that both would jump straight to the NBA if they could.

Could they?

Walker has the clearer case. The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Monday that Walker should have been a senior last year and would be ineligible to play high school basketball in Ohio this upcoming season.

In Walker's case, a transcript error led to the confusion. Walker spent much of the 2002-03 school year at Rose Hill Christian Academy in Ashland, Ky., as a ninth-grader. Walker played 16 games for Rose Hill Christian. In February 2003, he transferred to North College Hill. At that point, he registered as an eighth-grader.

"Those two semesters at Rose Hill Christian School," commissioner Dan Ross explained in a teleconference Monday, "combined with the six semesters at North College Hill, would complete Bill's eligibility, [according to] our bylaws 4-3-4: 'After a student completes the eighth grade, or is otherwise eligible for high school athletics, the student shall be eligible for eight semesters taken in order of attendance, whether the student participates [in athletics] or not."

In other words, Walker has completed four years of high school (and four years of high school basketball), according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

His options for the upcoming season are prep school and the NBDL, which recently lowered its age minimum to 18.

Next spring, Walker could try to declare for the 2007 draft claiming that he's 19 and he would've graduated in 2006 if it weren't for the transcript mess. Or he could go to college. He's rumored to be leaning toward joining Bob Huggins at Kansas State, though he could also try USC to be with his high school running mate, Mayo.

Mayo's case is more muddied.

He was held back a year early in his schooling, which is why he's a year older than most other players in his grade. He has played high school ball since the seventh grade (thanks to a rule that lets young players compete in high school games in Kentucky).

Mayo is expected to announce soon that he'll attend USC next year. But he, too, is more NBA-ready than many of the kids coming out of college. Could the league make an exception for him?

Don't count on it. NBA spokesman Tim Frank said that he believes neither player is eligible for the 2007 draft.

"It's when you graduate (or when your class would have graduated), not when your eligibility is up," Frank said via e-mail. "So just because Walker is ineligible [to play high school basketball], he still hasn't graduated, so his class is the 2007 class."

"Mayo being held back eight years ago does not give you a claim to [the 2006 graduating class] as his 'original class.' " Frank said. "He is clearly scheduled to graduate in 2007."

However, sports law expert Michael McCann disagrees.

McCann, a law professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, is the author of the popular Sports Law Blog. He was part of the legal team that represented Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in his (unsuccessful) legal challenge of the NFL's age restriction.

"Billy Walker should be eligible for the 2007 NBA Draft," McCann told me in an e-mail interview. "An honest interpretation of the CBA dictates that conclusion: His high school class would have graduated, and he would satisfy the requirement that he be at least 19 years old during the calendar year in which the 2007 NBA Draft is held. I believe that the NBA would ultimately recognize the expertise of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (which presumably knows its schools better than the NBA), because if it doesn't, it may unwittingly invite Walker to challenge the age restriction in court, something which the NBA likely wants to avoid."

"Walker's claim for eligibility appears stronger than that for Mayo, although Mayo's situation invites the question of how to measure one's graduating class," McCann said. "Mayo could argue that it should be measured from when he originally began schooling, although the NBA would likely argue that it should be measured from when he began high school. Both arguments are rational, and would likely require the opinion of education experts. The fact that he was playing high school ball as a seventh-grader seems to suggest what his school thought of his class."

McCann said any comparisons to the Clarett case are unfounded.

"Unlike when Maurice Clarett challenged the NFL's age eligibility rule, Walker's lawsuit would enjoy empirical data showing that prep-to-pro players have, on average, performed better than any other age group to enter the NBA," said McCann.

"Moreover, while it is commonly assumed that Clarett v. NFL is the definitive case on age restrictions, it isn't. It is the holding of one United States Court of Appeals, and it is unclear how the other 12 United States Courts of Appeal would hold on the matter.

"Even though the NBA's age restriction has been collectively bargained, a good argument can be made that it only affects parties (prep players) outside of the two collective-bargaining units (the NBA and the NBPA), and thus should not enjoy immunity from antitrust laws." Some have also argued that a guy such as Walker or Mayo could go to Europe for a year and then try to get eligible as an "international" player. NBA draft eligibility rules stipulate that international players have to turn 19 the year that they declare for the draft. They do not have the same one-year waiting period coming out of high school.

However, the move wouldn't work for Walker or Mayo because the CBA says that international players "must maintain a permanent residence outside of the United States for at least the three years prior to the Draft, while participating in the game of basketball as an amateur or as a professional outside of the United States."

McCann said that the different rules for international and high school player, may, however, cause the league problems if the issue were ever litigated.

"Should a litigation occur, a court would likely wonder why there exists a more restrictive rule for American amateur players than foreign players, and should it apply antitrust law, a court would likely compare the respective NBA performances of those two groups," McCann said.

If Mayo or Walker were to be eligible, both would be considered lottery picks, according to several NBA sources. Mayo, according to three NBA scouts, would be a likely top five pick in the 2007 draft. Walker would likely be drafted in the late lottery.

Mayo is a 6-foot-4 point guard who has dominated high school basketball the last three years in a way that's reminiscent of LeBron James. Mayo already has an NBA body, can score or run a team and seems to be playing at a completely different level than his counterparts. In fact, Mayo's actually been criticized this summer at the Reebok ABCD camp for not progressing the way scouts thought he should. But all acknowledge that he's so far ahead of the talent he's playing against that he's probably bored.

Walker is a high-flying, slashing two guard who has an NBA body as well. He is compared by scouts to the Nets' Vince Carter.


Aw, Here It Goes!
Yea the 2007 draft projected to one of the greatest the NBA ever had. After the 2006 draft was said to be one of the worst since 2000.