Gosh we Americans can be parochial in our thinking.
Consider, for example, the NBA Draft. An underclassman announces he’s going pro — not one of those hamburger All-Americans that has been coddled since he was 10, but a young, talented player that might have to sweat it out draft night.
Outrage is the response:
What about his education? What if he doesn’t get drafted?
But consider this question:
What if a player and his family are experiencing true financial hardship? You remember that term? “Hardship Case,” when a player actually had to prove he had financial cause to leave college early for the NBA Draft.
TO THE HOOP: Villanova’s Dominic Cheek, who has declared for the NBA Draft, goes up against Moe Harkless of St. John’s last season
It’s hard to imagine some of the players that leave early these days are hardship cases when they’re sporting two-carat diamond earrings and expensive body art.
There certainly was some holier-than-thou outrage this week when Kentucky’s starting five, its mascot and band leader announced they were leaving for the draft.
Why? If they were elite mathematicians that left early for lucrative jobs in the private sector, no one would bat an eye.
Those five Kentucky players passed their NBA internship with flying colors — winning the school’s eighth national title. No one should have been surprised when they announced.
The real eye-opening news (Bobby Petrino entries not eligible) came out of Philadelphia.
Villanova swingman Dominic Cheek announced he was leaving after his junior season. Cheek wasn’t even the top prospect on his team.
He didn’t lead the Wildcats in free-throw shooting or field-goal shooting or 3-point shooting. He was not the leading rebounder or shot blocker.
A quick search found he was not considered one of the Top 100 prospects by any draft recruiting source.
Why would Cheek, a nice kid who learned to play the game the right way at St. Anthony from Bob Hurley — the most remarkable coach in the history of basketball (yes, we have heard of guys named Wooden and Auriemma) — and learned to carry himself like a gentleman, go pro?
“It was based mostly on [financial considerations],’’ Cheek told reporters in Philadelphia. “I’d do anything for my family. The neighborhood where I’m from is one of the worst in the city. My grandmother lives in the projects. She’s taken care of three kids. I just want to get her out of there. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
In all probability, Cheek, who lives in Jersey City, is going to do it overseas. He’s a perfect prospect to play in the lucrative leagues from France to Israel to Russia.
At 6-foot-6, 190 pounds he can do a little bit of everything, and he will do it right. A team owner won’t have to worry about some ugly American getting into a bar fight in the red-light district.
Cheek will turn the other cheek if he must. He will work hard. He will send home most of his paycheck.
“I know it could be a bumpy road,” Cheek said. “But I’m willing to face that challenge, do whatever I have to do to ... pursue my dream of a pro career.”
It’s international role reversal. Who knows how many cabbies or street vendors or construction workers are sending most of their hard-earned money back to family overseas?
Cheek will be the American making the sacrifice for his family. He might have to learn how to speak another language. And fans overseas can be brutal on American players. They’re held to a higher standard because this is our game.
“We’ve talked a lot,’’ said Villanova coach Jay Wright, who I would trust with my son. “There’s a lot to this, and I admire the way he’s handled it. With his situation, it might be better for him to do it now. Everybody [on the outside] isn’t going to understand, but it probably was the best time. ... It wasn’t a decision he made quickly.”
It’s a decision Cheek said he believes he had to make. Almost every kid who dreams of playing pro basketball thinks of the NBA. It’s where the best players earning the most money play.
But there are options outside the U.S. of A. Hopefully Cheek will find his.
Dominic Cheek, NBA, NBA, Villanova