Since the FBI first began investigating the dark side of college basketball recruiting a year ago, it seemed like some sort of change was coming in the path that elite players took from high school, to college (for a “one and done” season) to the NBA. Whether it was the removal of the “one and done” rule all together, or simply adding a more incentive based G-League alternative during that one season between high school and the NBA Draft (when most of the top players end up in college), the tea leaves seemed to indicate something was indeed coming.
And on Thursday we finally found out what that “something” was.
In a rule that could alter college basketball going forward, the G-League will now offer one-year, $125,000 contracts to elite high school basketball players who are not yet eligible for the NBA Draft. Remember, the NBA states you need to be one year removed from your high school graduation and at least 19-years-old to be draft eligible – and most players (with the exception of a few) have elected to spend that one season in college.
Now, they can spend that one season in the G-League, making $125,000. ESPN had the full report
, and my buddy Drew Franklin gave the details here earlier
. But for those who missed it, here are some of the important notes:
- Players who are identified as elite high school prospects, but are not yet eligible for the draft, will have an opportunity to play in the G-League for their one season that would otherwise be used as a one-and-done college player. They will be paid $125,000 for that one season.
- Since they are professionals, they will be allowed to sign with agents and in turn use their likeness to sign endorsement deals.
- The NBA will help the players into off-the-court developmental programs and also allow them access to NBA training facilities and coaching between the end of their high school season and the start of the G-League season.
- To be clear, the program isn’t open to anyone who wants to enter, but the G-League will determine who they believe are the right fits, with an emphasis on character and maturity.
- According to the head of the G-League, it is only for players who have no interest in the college game. They will not pursue players who are already committed to colleges. If players ultimately decommit, then the G-League would consider them.
So there ya have it. The top high school players can now earn six figures to play professional basketball right here in the United States. And as soon as this measure was announced it was deemed to be a death blow to college ball, the first step in what is a vast, rapid exodus of the top players for the professional ranks.
However, the more I dig into this program and the more I think about it, the fact remains that I’m not sure it has a massive impact on the sport as we know it. At least not right away.
Now again, to be clear, will this program impact some kids? Absolutely. I have no doubt that – if offered – a lot of kids will absolutely consider this path. They all should. If it was my son, I would unquestionably weigh the pros and cons of an opportunity to make $125,000 at 18-years-old to play professional basketball.
However, when you dig deeper, and ask the real tough questions, the path isn’t as glamorous as its made out to be.
For starters, let’s just get the flat-out, bottom-line truth out of the way to start: The $125,000 mark sounds good, but it isn’t life-altering money. As we’ve seen throughout this FBI case, if a kid really wants to get paid while they’re in college, they can probably find someone who can pony up right around that same dollar figure. Brian Bowen – who wasn’t even going to be a one-and-done – got $100,000 from Louisville. Billy Preston got $90,000 from Adidas. Again, the money is there at the college level.
Some would argue that the endorsement opportunities are a game-changer, and could add more to that $125,000 total. I just don’t buy it. Sure, a lot of these high school kids have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. But how many really have a “brand” that can move merchandise for any major company? In this year’s class Zion Williamson did, and maybe R.J. Barrett too. But that’s really it.
On the flip side, think about how many really good NBA players who have come through the college ranks had next to no brand when they arrived on campus: Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Brandon Ingram, you name it. Seriously, what was Trae Young’s “brand” before his one season at Oklahoma? It was non-existent. If anything, college helped build those guy’s brands. It helped them make more money in the long-term by playing college ball. I just don’t believe that right now major endorsement opportunities are there for elite high school basketball players. Additionally, that one of playing college basketball – on national TV for 35-40 games a year – is what helps build that brand.
Now to the nuts and bolts of the argument, and back to that $125,000. Again, as I said up top, that salary is nice, but it’s not a game-changer. And even if we’re to assume that every college basketball prospect is doing things legally and not taking money, they will still have to weigh the risk reward of playing for free in college, versus making that 125k in the pros. In other words, will that one year in the G-League – and that $125,000 – cost a player in the long run, as opposed as if he’d just gone to college.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s simple really. Because while the G-League does have some benefits over college basketball, including the fact that a kid can focus on basketball 24/7 without distractions like class, the NCAA’s “20-hour rule,” limiting coaching etc., there are some negatives too. And it’s those negatives that never really get talked about when it comes to the G-League. Everyone always assumes that the G-League is this yellow brick road to NBA riches, without talking about the realities of it.
For starters, there really is no other way to put it: The amenities that are provided at the college level are simply better than what’s available in the G-League. If you go to Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Louisville, UCLA, Kansas etc., you have access to world class weight-training, nutrition and meal planning. You stay in five-star hotels and fly charter. In the G-League? It’s a lot of bus rides from Ogden to Reno. The meal planning and weight training aren’t as good. It’s professional basketball. But in most places it certainly ain’t “NBA caliber” or even on par with what a kid will receive in college. Just look at the physical development of a kid like DeAndre Ayton after one year in a college weight training program. It’s mind-boggling. And it will help him much more in the long-term than having played an extra year in the G-League.
It’s the same with the coaching. Look, the bottom-line is that G-League coaches are a lot like G-League players: They’re doing everything they can to get to the NBA, or at least to a better job. Those coaches aren’t concerned with developing 18-year-old kid for somebody else to win with, as much as they are playing the 25-year-olds that allow them to win games and move up to the next level. And even if they have the kid’s best interests at heart, again, is the “coaching” itself on par with a good college program? In other words, would you rather spend nine months learning basketball from Coach K, John Calipari, Jay Wright, Tom Izzo – all Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers? Or the guy in charge of the Reno Big Horns right now. No disrespect to the dude who runs the Big Horns (I heard they’re supposed to be good this season!) but there’s a reason you don’t know his name.
Most importantly though, the biggest question that every kid is going to have to face is how the G-League will impact their overall draft future. Sure, playing professionally and making $125,000 will be great in the short-term. But these are also 18-year-old kids that will be playing against grown men. Grown men that will be looking for their shot at the NBA, and aren’t going to hand it to some kid.
Add it up and it leads to the ultimate trickledown effect: What if you underperform in the G-League? What if you – understandably – struggle against players that are 5-10 years older than you, and much more physically mature? How will that impact your draft stock? Heck, we’ve seen players struggle at the college level – Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere come to mind – and still not see their draft stock impacted? Will it be if a kid struggles at the G-League level? It remains to be seen. Anyone remember Darius Bazley? The kid who was supposed to go to Syracuse… then decided to play in the G-League… and then decided to sit out this season altogether? There’s a reason he did that: He didn’t want to get exposed.
Therefore while Thursday’s big announcement will have an impact, I’m not sure that it will have the wide-reaching, long-term effects that many believe.
Will some kids decide to take this path? Of course. But a lot more are going to wait and see how it works out for others.
As I said on social media Thursday, everyone says that this is a “game-changer” for college hoops. But I also heard that Brandon Jennings going to Europe was a game-changer for college basketball. And that Mitchell Robinson sitting out last year was a game-changer. And LaVar Ball’s pro league was a game-changer.
Through it all, college basketball has continued to be the best developmental for the best high school basketball players in the country.
And it will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future as well.