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The NBA age floor, and a profit opportunity

The next LeBron James won't be able to play for an NBA team after finishing high school. One option would be to play in the NBA's Development League, where the average salary last season was $20,000. Then there's the college option, where you might skate through a year's worth of classes before jumping to the big show. But why bother with the hassle if you could develop your game under the watchful eye of dedicated coaches (i.e. not the recruiting specialists favored by NCAA rules) at an elite training center in Florida?

Along with the development league, another option would be playing at a prep school for a year or working out at I.M.G. Academy, which was opened four years ago.

I.M.G. is a haven for off-season workouts by N.B.A. players like Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington and Tayshaun Prince. It has specialty programs to prepare players for the draft. This year, it produced its first draftee, Ricky Sanchez, who was picked in the second round by Portland and traded to Denver.

Sonny Vaccaro, Reebok's senior director of grass-roots basketball and one of the most influential people in the sport in the last 30 years, predicted that workout academies like I.M.G. could start the next trend in basketball.

"If I were younger," Vaccaro said, "I would start the Sonny Academy."

Joe Abunassar, I.M.G.'s director of basketball, said that he had already been contacted by Brandon Rush and other top high school players who were not in June's draft.

Abunassar said he expected I.M.G., which he likened to a boarding school, to become increasingly popular among elite athletes.

"For some reason, kids have been looking for a different way to get into the N.B.A," said Abunassar, a former manager for Bob Knight at Indiana and an assistant coach at Wyoming. "We've seen more and more kids leave not because they're in the first round, but they don't want to go to college anymore."

The NCAA is tightening up academic requirements on programs, and the NBA is closing the door to the cream of the crop. So there is a new group of players, replenished on an annual basis, who want no part of English 101. They are likely to find better terms than offered by the NBA development League.

My sense is that Sonny Vaccaro is right: the NBA and NCAA have managed to create a profit opportunity in signing elite players and giving them specialized training. I.M.G. might house a squad or two in return for a share of their first contract. A team from Europe could develop a reputation for training potential superstars on a similar basis.