Preps-to-pros opportunities changing college basketball recruiting; but how much will it impact Kansas?
Up to this point, the talk about top college basketball prospects considering Kansas but opting for professional opportunities instead has been mostly retrospective in nature.
Discussions about what Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson or even Josh Selby might have done had the rules have been different have been common. But few future Jayhawks from the past have actually considered skipping college for adventures unknown.
However, with the college game and the recruiting efforts that feed it constantly changing, the vibrations are starting to be felt in Lawrence.
In the past 11 months alone, KU has seen five-star prospect R.J. Hampton pick a pro opportunity in New Zealand over college at Kansas. Class of 2020 five-star forward Isaiah Todd followed that up by choosing Michigan over KU only to back out of that commitment this week with his own plans of turning pro.
And then there’s the latest news about Class of 2020 prospect Jalen Green, the top remaining uncommitted player in his class. KU was not recruiting Green, but he, like Hampton, could have an impact on future prospects the Jayhawks are pursuing.
Welcome to the newest wave of college basketball recruiting. It promises to be an interesting ride.
Earlier this week, Green announced that he will skip college to take advantage of the NBA’s new G League developmental program that offers select prospects a contract worth up to $500,000 to play one year in the G League before entering the NBA draft.
Current NBA collective bargaining rules stipulate that players must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft. This may change in the near future, but those are the rules today.
Instead of waiting for their NBA riches while sitting through algebra and economics classes, more and more top prospects are starting to consider striking out on their own.
The idea here is not entirely new. But having the NBA directly involved is.
In 2008, Brandon Jennings played overseas instead of attending Arizona. Future lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay did the same thing six years later, opting for an opportunity in China instead of a scholarship at SMU. A handful of others followed their lead — to varying degrees of success — all the way up to Hampton and famed Ball brother, LaMelo Ball, most recently playing in Australia’s National Basketball League instead of attending college in the United States.
The incentive for the players is to make good money and compete against pros while preparing to become eligible for a shot at their dreams in the NBA.
The incentive for the leagues and teams overseas is global exposure and the opportunity to establish a pipeline between them and the United States.
And the incentive for the NBA, with its new G League initiative, is to keep the top talent and future stars from leaving the country.
Pouring this kind of money into teenagers is a gamble. But it’s one that appears to have plenty of upside for the NBA.
Hampton, who analysts and coaches said would have been a star at Kansas, delivered modest production in the NBL. In 15 games before getting injured, he shot 40% while averaging 8.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game, all while playing against grown men.
Ball, who started his pro career in Lithuania after being pulled out of high school by his father, LaVar Ball, also was injured during the recent NBL season. But even with that, both players are projected to be lottery picks in ESPN.com’s latest mock draft.
All of this could be short-lived, of course.
Whether these top prospects jump to the G League now or enter the NBA draft out of high school like they used to — provided the NBA eventually gets rid of the one-and-done rule as is expected — their futures do not appear to be in college basketball.
But the list of prospects both good enough and willing to make that kind of jump is short. Remember, this new G League initiative is open only to a select few.
Many of the best high school players in the country will still go to school.
In fact, six of the eight committed Top 10 players in Rivals.com’s 2020 recruiting rankings have been signed since at least last November. And all of them appear to be forging ahead with their plans to attend college.
From a marketing and development standpoint, there are plenty of advantages that come from being coached by the likes of Bill Self, Roy Williams, John Calipari and others while also playing on ESPN and other national networks 25-30 times a year.
So don’t be surprised if this new trend finds its to way to Lawrence. Through the moves made by Hampton and Todd, it all but did.
But don’t panic either. The KU coaching staff will continue to fill its roster with elite prospects and talented players, many of whom will never even have the opportunity to consider making the kinds of moves that Green, Hampton and Todd are making.
Look to KU’s 2020-21 roster as proof. The highest-rated prospects on that roster are senior-to-be Silvio De Sousa, who was ranked No. 18 overall by Rivals.com in the 2017 class, and incoming freshman Bryce Thompson, whom Rivals ranked at No. 19.
As talented as both players are, in the world of preps-to-pros basketball, a Top 20 player is not in the same class as a Top 5 prospect.