Top 5 Class of 2019 basketball recruit R.J. Hampton has decided to forego college basketball in favor of a season in the National Basketball League of Australia as he prepares for the 2020 NBA draft. Hampton signed a two-year deal with the New Zealand Breakers (1 of 9 NBL clubs) that will pay him “far” more than the $100,000 most of the players in the league’s Next Stars Program receive. While Happy Walters (CEO of Catalyst Sports & Media, the agency Hampton signed with) acknowledges that Hampton could have signed a more lucrative deal in Europe or China, the pressure coaches face to win in those leagues leaves little room for international player development. Walters said that between “the NBA lineage (see Howie & Fan below), the shorter league schedule (which allows Hampton to return to the U.S. and start to prepare for the draft), the high-quality coaching and the opportunity to play in a league that has a formal development program the decision to play in New Zealand was a no brainer.”
Howie Long-Short: After watching Zion Williamson play himself into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of endorsements (never mind the top overall selection in the draft) with a single awe inspiring collegiate season, it seems safe to say that college basketball remains the path to the most money long-term. But John Lashway (Lashway Consulting Group) insists that “there are different ways to get to the top of the mountainand if a player goes someplace where they have a chance to play and show well relative to the competition – and get paid – then that makes sense too.”
Lashway says that “there’s no question the level of competition is going to be lower in New Zealand than it would be in Spain or Turkey”, but that’s part of Walter’s strategy for the player. He prefers Hampton “play 20-25 minutes/game in Australia (as he’s been promised), than 10 minutes/game in Italy. At 10 minutes/game, a player is not developing – is not getting better.” Money aside, the G-League isn’t a great option for high-level prospects either. It’s full of athletes nearly a decade older – with little incentive to assist in the player’s development – that are far too physical for the average 18-year-old to play with.
Breakers managing director and controlling owner Matt Walsh (a former NBA player) called Hampton’s decision a “wake-up moment for college programs” implying that a season of international basketball is now perceived by elite prospects to be favorable to two semesters on campus, but kids have been bypassing classes in favor of paychecks for a decade now (Brandon Jennings opted for Italy over Arizona in ’09) and the impact on college hoops has been negligible; the 1st 2 rounds of the 2019 NCAA tournament drew the 2nd largest audience of any big dance dating back to ’91 (when it moved to the current TV format).
The NBA is also likely to eliminate the bylaw that requires players to be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from high school graduation to enter the draft following the ’22-’23 season, so there aren’t many classes left that will have to choose between the two. The change will result in a talent drain on college basketball, but it’s not one that puts the sport in peril; remember, between 1995-2004 many of the top H.S. prospects (think: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James) went straight from H.S. to the NBA and March Madness wasn’t any less popular.
Hampton signed a two-year contract, but he has no intention of playing overseas beyond this season. While the terms won’t bind the prospect to Kiwi basketball, it does guarantee the Breakers $800,000 in remunerations should Hampton be among the first 15 players selected in next year’s draft.
Fan Marino: Hampton is going to miss out on the marketing machine that is college basketball, but his association with the Breakers ensures his name will be familiar to the millennial sports fan come draft day – Pardon My Take Co-host Barstool BigCat is a minority stakeholder in the franchise. It’s reasonable to believe the popular podcast personality will use his high-profile platform to talk about the team’s most promising player. Interestingly, PMT’s large audience didn’t factor into Hamptons decision. In fact, Walters said neither he nor Hampton were aware of BigCat’s involvement in the franchise – “but that explains why Barstool did the interview with R.J. after he announced his decision for next year.”
Basketball fans will recognize another name associated with Breakers ownership. Former NBA all-star Shawn Marion is part of the consortium that bought the franchise in 2018.
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