NBA G League Announces New Program for Top High School Prospects
On Thursday the NBA G League announced a new plan to provide a new, alternative path to the NBA to prospects coming out of high school. This move may well challenge the NCAA’s ability to lure the best young players to college just after high school.
Starting in the summer of 2019 the G League will begin to offer “Select Contracts” worth $125,000 over the course of a season to the most elite prospects that are at least 18 years old but not eligible to jump into the NBA draft. The G League plans to offer the contracts to prospects that otherwise would have had to play a year of college basketball prior to entering the NBA.
In addition to offering the prospects an attractive one-year salary, the G League will afford the players the ability to jump right into an NBA-style organization rather than dealing with everything else that comes with playing collegiately. G League president Malcolm Turner told ESPN that the players will also be given the chance to utilize off-court programs “geared toward facilitating and accelerating their transition to the pro game.”
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this development from the players’ point of view is the fact that they will be able to pursue endorsement contracts. College players are forbidden by rule to profit off of their likeness or sign sneaker contracts. In the new G League program, prospects may hire agents and endorsement deals. These deals tend to be worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, so the appeal is obvious.
NCAA president Mark Emmert issued a statement that said, “We appreciate the NBA’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally. The NCAA recently implemented significant reforms to support student-athlete success, including more flexibility when deciding whether to play professionally. Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”
A number of the most successful players in the history of the NBA jumped straight from high school to the pro level. LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are among those that never played collegiately. However, in 2005 the NBA instituted a new rule stating that every player in the league must either be 19 years of age or more than a year removed from high school. Since then, just about every top high school prospect has gone on to play one season of college basketball before entering the NBA. Some others, like Brandon Jennings, have decided to go play a season of professional basketball overseas before jumping into the NBA draft.
This past April, however, the Commission on College Basketball recommended that the so-called “one-and-done” rule be done away with after a massive investigation into fraud in college basketball concluded. Condoleeza Rice, who chaired the commission, said, “Elite high school players with NBA prospects and no interest in a college degree should not be forced to attend college, often for less than a year. One-and-done has to go, one way or another.”
This new measure by the NBA and the G League is something of a response to that. Turner added, “The broader basketball community has called for the NBA to enhance our G League offerings. We believe this is an answer to that call. We believe this is a thoughtful and responsive answer.”
7 of the current top-10 players in the 2019 ESPN 100 are still uncommitted to college programs. The potential for the G League to nab such elite prospects right away could have lasting ramifications. This could lead to a boon in popularity for the G League, while college basketball may start to lose much of its top talent.
Turner went on to say that the G League will not attempt to poach prospects that have already committed to play collegiately. However, players that have signed on with college programs will have the ability to de-commit and take the G League path if they so choose. Not just any prospect can jump into the G League. Players targeted by the league will have to be mature enough to jump into the professional ranks immediately after high school.
The process as a whole remains a work-in-progress. The G League has not yet figured out how it will target and identify said top prospects, nor has it set a number on how many players will be afforded this opportunity. Will players from overseas be eligible?
The G League has plans to hire a program manager that will be tasked with overseeing the entire process and help work out the logistics.
In addition to giving players the chances to train at NBA facilities and meet with player development coaches and training staffs, the G League also plans to offer an off-court component that teaches players about post-career planning along with opportunities to still earn academic scholarships.
After completing one season in the G League on the Select Contract, those players will be immediately eligible to enter the NBA draft. The new program will be available to players that are at least 18 years old or at least a year removed from high school. The program will not take players that are already enrolled in college.
Whether prospects jump at the chance to jump right into the G League remains to be seen. Some may still take the college route. Those with aspirations of jumping to the NBA may prefer the chance to showcase their skills against fellow 18 and 19 year olds in college rather than having to battle with more experienced players. The average player age in the G League last season was 25. Some prospects may struggle to stand out amid professional-level competition more than they would against college players.
The 6-figure salary for Select Contracts could also cause a conflict with other G-Leaguers, who have a base salary of $35,000 over the course of a 5-month season with a few bonuses.
The NBA has plans to lower its age limit after the 2022 draft, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the new G League program between now and then. The reduction of the age limit will mean players will have the chance to once again go straight from the high school ranks into the NBA.
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