In the wake of top prospect RJ Hampton choosing to play in the NBL (Australian Basketball League), Sports Illustrated released a piece claiming that college basketball and its fans should be concerned about the future of college basketball because top stars are choosing other options.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this claim. Just because 1 high schooler chooses to go play overseas will have very little effect on the other 353 Division 1 basketball teams. Also, it may not be worth it going overseas. People said when Brandon Jennings skipped college to play in Europe, all top prospects would follow suit to get a paycheck. But in reality only 4 other players have gone straight overseas skipping college, Jeremy Tyler, Emmanuel Mudiay, Terrance Ferguson, and now RJ Hampton. Let’s take a look at how each of these players’ careers have turned out.
The pioneer to skip college to play professionally. Jennings was ranked #1 in his high school class, played in Italy and averaged 5 points a game in 17 minutes a game. He wound up being drafted 10th by the Bucks and has had a solid NBA career averaging 14 points and 6 assists even after rupturing his Achilles in 2015. He had a great season in 2011-12 he averaged 19 points and 5.5 assists for the Bucks.
Jeremy Tyler not only skipped college he skipped his senior year of high school. He was a 5-star recruit before he left. His first year in Israel he played in 10 games and averaged 2 points a game. His second year he played in Japan and averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game. In 2011 he was picked 39th overall. His NBA career was a flop played in only 80 career games and averaged only 3.8 points a game.
Mudiay was ranked the 2nd best prospect in his class and went to play in China. He was injured in China and only played 10 games but averaged 18 points 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He wound up being drafted 7th overall in the 2015 draft. His NBA career is still young but this past year he put up a career-best 15 points a game and is a solid NBA starter.
Ferguson was ranked 11th in his class and was a McDonald’s All American. He wound up going to the NBL (same as Hampton) and averaged 5 points a game in 15 minutes a game. He was drafted 21st overall by the Thunder. Last year, in his second season, he started every game for the Thunder and averaged 7 points a game.
Looking at the past examples of prep to overseas all of the players were selected lower than their high school rank. All of them have had a solid NBA career so far outside of Tyler. But did going overseas help their draft stock? Probably not. I do not blame players for going overseas to get a paycheck, but individuals need to weigh the risks and rewards of choosing this route.
The players that are faced with this decision are players that are being recruited by blue blood programs, they are not players that are going to wind up going to a low major school with the weight room the size of a closet. These programs have the highest quality facilities that come near to NBA level quality. Their improvement would not be hindered at all by going to college where they have a huge support staff that is 100% dedicated to helping them improve. Overseas I can’t say that the staffs are focused on individual player improvement, they are focused on winning and keeping their job.
I am not saying players should not play overseas, but college basketball is a tried and true method of developing players for the NBA. Trae Young broke onto the scene in his freshman year in college. No one thought at the beginning of the year that he was a one and done prospect, but his spectacular play in the NCAA opened people’s eyes and he became a lottery pick.
Each individual player’s situation is different and if someone wants to skip college to get a 1-year paycheck go for it! But if you want to play in college in front of 15,000 passionate fans a night go for it also! Whatever choice the player makes they should think long and hard about their choice and no one should give them flack about it.