NBA Players Sports Business

Top Players Will & Should Turn Pro

With the end of March Madness less than a few weeks away, there has been a ton of speculation over whether freshman college basketball sensations Greg Oden (Ohio State Buckeyes center) and Kevin Durant (Texas Longhorns guard-forward) will turn pro at the end of the season. Long before these Diaper Dandies even set foot on their college campuses, they had already been pinned the # 1 and # 2 picks respectively in the 2006 NBA Draft. The only thing that kept these McDonalds All-Americans from cashing in on their NBA potential was the NBA’s new draft rule, which requires players to be a year out of high school before they can become draft-eligible.

As a current student at The Ohio State University, I have heard the seemingly never-ending local chatter about how Greg Oden will remain a Buckeye and forgo his chance to enter the 2007 Draft. Greg Oden has implied countless times to the media that he will stay at Ohio State. He has said that he enjoys the college atmosphere and he needs more time to mature and hone his offensive skills before he will be ready to compete at the NBA level.

Regardless of whether Oden truly believes he will retain his college eligibility and keep the “Thad 5” in tact for another season, these promises reflect the naivety of an 18-year-old kid. Once the decision becomes a reality in the near future and Oden must actually choose his destiny, Oden will find it much more difficult to make good on his promises. The allure of millions of dollars that will come with being the #1 pick in the draft will make the cries of “one more year” from Buckeye fans (after the Big Ten regular-season championship at the Value City Arena) and Oden’s loyalties to high school and current teammate Mike Conley Jr. fade away fast, very fast.

Despite what Oden may say to placate fans and get the media off his back as he focuses on helping the Buckeyes get to the Final Four in Atlanta, recent events point to his departure for the NBA.

Mike Conley Sr., who coached Oden in the sixth grade and remains close to him, has allegedly been sighted leaving Wasserman Media Group, the home of NBA premier agent, Arn Tellem. Additionally,  Conley Sr. has recently opened up his own agency called Mac Management Group. Conley Sr. adamantly denies that his new sports agency implies that Oden is coming out. But if you read between the lines, commonsense and the writing on the wall will tell you a different story— say goodbye to Mr. Oden.

Back in the fall, as I walked to the gym at Ohio State with a buddy of mine, we observed Oden as he walked through a crowd of average-sized college students on his way to class. We were absolutely shocked how a single person did not even turn to look as the 7-foot giant walked past them. I guess the Buckeye faithful were too busy looking ahead to their #1 rated football team getting to the BCS National Championship game. Whatever the reason, they did not recognize the highest-rated center to hit a college campus since Patrick Ewing in the 80s.

These days it’s different, however, as Oden cannot even walk two-feet without somebody stopping him or hounding him for an autograph, no matter where he goes in Columbus. His notoriety has not only reached rockstar status in Columbus, it has spilled out of the Buckeye state across the nation.

With both Oden and Durant’s national popularity, these college stars will be able to cash in on multi-million dollar endorsement deals if they enter the June draft. A year ago, these lucrative deals might not have presented themselves to these two if they would have been permitted to make the jump to the NBA straight out of high school.

Playing college basketball has really paid dividends for Oden and Durant, as even the average Joe Schmoe across the country recognizes their names now. Trust me, it would be another story if they were up-and-coming players with star potential in the NBA, whose names would be recognizable only among basketball enthusiasts.

With all the ballyhoo surrounding these basketball phenoms, the decision that that these two will face in the next month should be an easy one.

While I commend Tim Duncan for his decision to stay at Wake Forest for four years, which enabled him to acquire the nickname “Mr. Fundamental” in the NBA, I would strongly advise Oden and Durant not to follow in his footsteps.

While the opportunity to finish your college education will always be there, the opportunity to be a lottery pick in the NBA will not. NBA scouts may say that even if Oden and Durant decide to stay in college, their draft positions will not change. While this may be true, way too much is at stake. Staying in college poses too many risks.

Their respective draft stocks could slip in the future after the hype surrounding their games realistically takes a hit as certain flaws in their games are exposed.

After helping the Gators win it all last year, Joakim Noah was pinned the #1 draft pick in the 2006 NBA draft. This year, after scouts found out that his jumper is suspect at best, his draft stock has slipped to a mid to late lottery pick. Big Baby from LSU has also seen his draft stock slip from a lottery pick a year ago to a second round pick at best in this year’s draft after a dismal season.

Even worse, there is always the risk of injury. Luckily, Clippers guard Sean Livingston decided to pass up playing for Coach K at Duke or else he might not have ever seen the millions he made in the NBA after he recently blew out his knee on an uncontested lay-up.

The same can be said for many others.

While Durant seems to be more open about his decision to forgo his sophomore season to enter the draft (even though he has not openly declared as of yet), Oden, for whatever reason, has been quite the opposite.

After Texas’s blowout loss to USC and an early bounce from March Madness, it is only a matter of days before Durant will announce his departure.

As Mike Conley Sr. and presumably as Oden’s agent, I would advise Oden to follow in the footsteps of fellow freshman superstar Durant.

While you can return to finish your college education at any time, you may never get the chance to be the #1 pick in the NBA draft again.

Go Oden Go!

—Matthew Allinson

14 replies on “Top Players Will & Should Turn Pro”

I give this entry 3.5 out of 5 Chops. But good work and continue to chop it chop it. Too bad your laundry skills fall far below your writing ability.

Good article; Salley and Drew Rosenhaus were kind of having out over this topic on “Best Damn…” the other night.

The whole collegiate system, vis a vis big time athletics (football and basketball) is somewhat perverted. Guys like Oden and Durant are making their schools millions without much insurance of a payback. And while injuries like Livingston’s are rare, why risk it? Oden and Durant aren’t in school to learn. SI had an article on Oden’s class schedule and it was a joke. They’re there to hone their basketball skills and wait-out the NBA’s new age-rule, and that’s IT.

And while Rosenhaus’ point that there are many kids who leave too early is valid, it’s fairly obvious these two guys aren’t in that group.

Definitely right on the Joakim assessment; however, he is in a rare situation where money is not that big of an issue. His father being a one-time tennis star and his mother a former supermodel, he is living up college life and will make it to the pros even though he decided to stay an extra year.

Durant is the one up for grabs, he’s the one all the agents are lining up for. He’ll also command a much bigger shoe deal, and thus a bigger pay day for whoever represents him.

And Greg Oden has been a common name for well over a year now. At least to anyone who follows sports. His ability to command a shoe deal and sponsorships is really no greater now than it was if he were to come out of HS and declare.

Good analysis, Matt. I don’t think you really touched on what is, in my opinion, one of the key reasons for Oden to leave college early. It’s–you guessed it–Thad Matta. As no less of an authority than Oden’s mom noted in a recent Washington Post article (, OSU is a “divided” team. Ever since Oden made his debut against Valpo, they’ve been unable to fully integrate him into their gameplan. Matta rolls out the ball and lets his team of almost-professionals play. That’s why a well-coached, cohesive, and ego-less team like Xavier came within a missed-call and a free throw of knocking off the Buckeyes.

The blame goes to the coaching staff. Matta and his assistants simply aren’t adept at dealing with a rare talent like Oden’s, much in the same way that Rick Barnes has been unable to properly utilize Durant. Even if Oden were to stay another year, he wouldn’t be able to get proper instruction and developmental assitance from the OSU coaching staff. Sure, he’d be able to spend another year maturing physically and mentally, but his game would essentially remain the same. Hopefully, whatever team takes him in the draft will be able to get Oden specialized, individualized coaching (as the Lakers have done with Andrew Bynum) that will enable him to take his game to the next level. In other words, if Oden wants to be a better basketball player, he has to go to the NBA.

By the way–how could OSU fans be demoralized about their loss in the BCS Championship game in the fall? We were in Arizona in January.

One difference between this year and next is if they leave this year Oden and Durant will be #1 and #2 in terms of draft boards and marketing dollars. If they wait for the ’08 draft, they’ll have to seriously contend with OJ Mayo, Derrick Rose, and Eric Gordon potentially for marketing dollars. Companies are more willing to shell out money for guards than big men. Leaving this year it’s likely that a guard won’t be selected in the top ten, thus all marketing dollars go to Oden and Durant.

Matt, well done. I do agree and see eye-to-eye on every topic you discussed and brought out on the surface. I simply look at this way, these guys are rare specimen and have no option but to play the game of basketball..I say this for a reason, where else could they make MILLIONS at the age of 19?? That’s right, no where! They will make more money in their signing then most will see in their lifetime!
by the way, I had no idea that Conley Sr. opened up his own agency, interesting and very obvious who his biggest client will be!

Well done!

I believe, that Conley, Sr coached Oden, Mike Jr, Cook, Derrick Rose (top 5 recruit in class of ’07 headed to Memphis), Josh McRoberts, Eric Gordon (another top 5 recruit headed to IU), etc.

He lands two or so of those guys and he has a business to build upon.

Without any real industry experience, I would say that Conley Sr.’s best bet would be to team up with somebody like Arn Tellem in the beginning. This way, Conley Sr. could still open up his own agency and be the face guy, but he would also have a legitimate agent giving him advice behind the scenes. Although he has built solid relationships with many top-tier NBA prospects and he is a former olympic athlete himself, he still needs to prove that he is worthy of representing these high-caliber athletes. I’m sure Arn Tellem attempted to convince Conley Sr. to work as an agent under Wasserman Media Group’s watch, but as a business man, it appears that Conley will try to do it himself (with a nice little fee to Telem or any other agent providing him with guidance on the low).

Conley, Sr doesn’t need to really work under Tellem. What he should do is hire someone that works for Tellem, even an intern, as an assistant and have that individual bring over contact information for companies.

Setting up marketing deals doesn’t take the relationships or experience that it used too in my opinion. There’s so much information out there in regards to what this guy is getting for a shoe deal, etc that it is easier to put a value on your client than before.

They’re already saying Durant could get $35m-$40m from a shoe deal, I could be his marketing agent, call Nike and tell them I represent Kevin Durant and we want a deal for $50m, and negotiate from there.

Say Conley Sr signs Oden, his job should be to call:

– Nike
– Reebok
– adidas
– Converse
– Pepsi
– Coke (Sprite)
– Powerade
– Gatorade
– Vitamin Water
– Sprint/Nextel
– T-Mobile
– Cingular/ATT
– Hummer
– Cadillac
– Chevrolet
– Ford
– Upper Deck
– Topps
– Donruss
– McDonalds
– Burger King

Setup a few signings around the state of Ohio, etc. It’s not rocket science, he just calls up these companies, says, “I’m Mike Conley, Sr and I am Greg Oden’s marketing agent, call me back!” And they will call back.

While you make some valid points, if you were the potential #1 pick in the draft, who would you want to represent you– your friend’s dad or an elite agent who has already proven that he can get the job done?

People underestimate the art and science of negotiation. Most people in the industry have vast experience in other industries and have worked on complex deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Plus, you want someone who actually knows his way around a boilerplate contract and knows what his options are vis a vis said contract.

I like the insight and agree that Oden is a fool for staying. Another good example is to look to Leinhart and how he fell by staying in school, even though his numbers were still the same. Danny Ferry. Cavs GM. was on Jim Rome a few days ago and admitted that all GM’s can help but give a player’s play in the tourney great weight. Oden is going to go out a winner, it doesn’t get any better than this. Only other option, transfer to NC State and bring a winner back to my boys.

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