This past week, Jalen Green, the number one high school basketball prospect according to the 2020 ESPN recruiting rankings, made his decision on where he would play next basketball season. No, it wasn’t Memphis nor was it Auburn, schools that had been considered the frontrunners for him. Instead, it was a one year, $500,000 contract with the NBA G-League that offers an additional development program outside of the league’s traditional team structure.
This move allows for professional development from NBA personnel for an entire year while being paid, which cannot happen in college, supposedly.
The move only adds more momentum to the already swift movement that is sweeping over the high school and college basketball ranks. More and more players are leaving, or rejecting, playing at big time colleges in favor of getting paid and playing in professional leagues at home and abroad. Just in the last year, RJ Hampton (former five-star guard out of HS) decided not to go to Kansas but instead to go to the NBL in Australia/New Zealand to play (Hampton has said he would’ve gone to Kansas should he have played in college). Lamelo Ball, younger brother New Orleans Pelicans PG Lonzo Ball, went the same route as Hampton. Isaiah Todd (five-star prospect out of HS in the class of 2020) decommitted from Michigan to pursue development in the G-League, just like Green.
This new movement is good for these players. If they’re good enough to go out and play professionally and, most importantly, get paid, why wouldn’t you choose this route?
Initially, this new wave seems as if it could be extremely detrimental to big time college basketball schools like Duke and Kentucky, who consistently reel in five-star prospects year after year, but I do not believe that is the case.
While top high school players will be more enticed to earn money and get professional development now, there is no shortage of high school basketball players who desire to play college ball. Players who want to go play college basketball will get the chance, and out of that group of players, the best will still likely want to go to the traditional “blue blood” schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas.
Thus, if this wave of top players leaving to pursue professional opportunities continues (and I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t continue), more and more emphasis will be placed on how well college coaches develop players who are not as good as some of those top prospects coming out of high school.
This is something that I think Jay Wright, Bill Self, Roy Williams, and even coaches like Mark Few, and Scott Drew are exceptional at especially in recent memory.
Among those coaches, they have produced a few notable players who have had significant impacts on their respective teams and made them some of the premier teams in America during their tenure in college. These guys include Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova), Frank Mason (Kansas), Devonte Graham (Kansas), Killian Tillie (Gonzaga), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Johnathan Motley (Baylor), and Mark Vital (Baylor) just to name a few.
That list of players includes six Final Four appearances (one for Arcidiacono, two for DiVincenzo, one for Graham, one for Tillie, and one for Hachimura), three National Titles (one for Arcidiacono and two for DiVincenzo), one Wooden Award Winner (Mason), two more premier candidates for the Wooden award in their respective seasons (Motley ’16-’17 and Graham ’17-‘18), and arguably one of the best defenders and most athletic players in college basketball currently (Vital).
Now that is not to say that coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari are not good at developing players, because they are good. It just so happens that these two coaches are at the two schools – Duke and Kentucky – that consistently reel in five-star prospect after five-star prospect. Just look at the growth that players like Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Tyus Jones, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis have had over their careers.
This new wave is definitely an obstacle that college coaches will have to adjust to quickly, as many for these college coaches have probably been recruiting these five-star guys for over three to five years.
But let me get this clear: not every five-star prospect will choose to go play professionally. The vast majority will still likely play collegiately because the professional teams and leagues have to have interest in the player as well as vice versa. It’s a two way street.
College Basketball will be fine. This just means that college coaches will have to adjust their recruiting tactics. And in that sense, we get to see some of the best coaches in America face a little adversity and see how they will overcome it.
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