Going to play college basketball seems to be a less appealing option for the top high school basketball prospects than it once did.
With choices such as playing for the NBA’s G League Ignite, going to play overseas or signing with another professional league in the U.S., more of the game’s top prospects are signing contracts to get paid while working their way to the NBA rather than taking the scholarship and spending a year in college.
At least early, the decision seems to be paying off. LaMelo Ball spent a season playing basketball in Australia, forgoing a commitment to UCLA, before being drafted third overall by the Charlotte Hornets. He’s now the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. NBA G League Ignite stars Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga both look like they will be high-round draft picks in 2021 after deciding to sign with the team rather than go to college.
But what are these leagues, and who is signing up to join them? We’ve got everything you need to know about these top talents turning pro early.
What are the options players have?
There are several routes that top recruits coming out of high school can take that don’t involve college. The most common one, for many years, had been to play overseas. Back in 2008, The New York Times reported that Brandon Jennings was the first American to leave for Europe to play basketball overseas instead of taking his talents to college. Since then, other players such as Emmanuel Mudiay and R.J. Hampton have made similar moves to play internationally before coming back to the NBA.
Now, there are more options. The NBA G League Ignite started in 2020, allowing high school prospects to develop at the professional level competing against other G League teams with salaries reaching six-figures — and even as high as $1 million in some cases. And on Friday, a new program called Overtime Elite officially landed its first two high school commits, with both expected to receive six-figure salaries.
Why would players choose this route?
Well, for starters, they’re receiving money. Of course, with discussions around NIL at the NCAA level, there could be a way for college athletes to begin to earn money off their name, image and likeness. However, at this point, recruits going to college receive a scholarship and an education, albeit in some cases, a short one if the athletes decide to turn pro after just one season.
While the NCAA is the more established route, signing with programs such as the G League Ignite and Overtime Elite could give the best recruits in the nation experience facing talent at a higher level than some of what they might face in college. With Ignite, players will face off against and play alongside NBA veterans and up-and-coming prospects in the G League hoping to make it onto an NBA roster. At Overtime Elite, players will receive developmental training while also offering options for education. While there, they will earn a salary and can profit off their name, image and likeness.
Who has already gone pro?
In the short time of the G League Ignite’s existence, it has landed some big-name prospects. Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, the No. 2 and No. 4 prospects, respectively, per 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, were among Ignite’s first major signings. Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd, both fellow five-star recruits, also joined the program. Kai Sotto, a four-star recruit out of the Phillippines, signed with Ignite as well.
The program added its youngest talent to date on Friday, signing Scoot Henderson to a $1 million deal to make him the youngest pro basketball player in American history. Jaden Hardy, Michael Foster and Fanbo Zeng, all five- and four-star recruits in the 2021 class, also will be signing with the G League Ignite program.
Overtime Elite also made a splash on Friday, signing its first two players to deals when juniors Matt Bewley and Ryan Bewley, a pair of five-star brothers from Orlando, Fla., joined the program, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Who will be next to sign?
There are several players who could be the next high school talents to go to the pros. According to 247Sports, the top two recruits in the 2022 class, Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, are expected to go pro, while the recruiting site gives No. 6 overall player Keyonte George a 50 percent chance of signing to play professionally. The site also gives 2023 five-star guard Mikey Williams a 57 percent chance of going pro.
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