There was a time, not so long ago, when the best players at the high school level were able to make the jump directly to the major league. Players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady all made the jump from preps to pros, but for every success story, 10 players jumped too soon. A glance online will provide you with a ridiculous list of players who were not ready for such a step up in competition, Jonathan Bender is a prime example. Remember him? No? Exactly.
Over the years, the debate around 18-year-old men becoming overnight millionaires raged on, culminating in the NBA’s decision to enforce a minimum one-year removed from high school rule. With this in place, the focus switched from thrusting young players into the league too soon, to that of the NCAA’s exploitation of its basketball athletes.
Without getting into the gory details of this exploitation debate, the premise is: While a slender proportion of players at the collegiate level receive scholarships, the majority continue to pay some or all of their tuition. Furthermore, teams continue to sell jerseys with players’ names on the back, yet the players receive nothing from these sales, nor do they receive any form of payment for the time they spend on the court.
Colleges would refute these accusations of exploitation by pointing out that these players are receiving an education, world-class coaching, as well as strength and conditioning training, allowing them to improve and get noticed by scouts. Both sides of this argument have their valid points, so the debate continues to rage on.
There is, of course, another angle to all of this. Not all players in high school are natural academics; school isn’t for everyone. So what do these players do if their grade point average isn’t high enough to enter a blue-chip collegiate system? The answer is usually to take their talents abroad for a year, similar to LaMelo Ball, who just spent this past season balling out in Australia.
Playing abroad can provide players with a distinct advantage of experiencing life as a professional athlete, competing in a league where there are no age restrictions while getting paid (usually handsomely) to do so. Unfortunately, this advantage soon becomes outweighed due to the sheer quantity of players vying for scouts’ attention each year.
Players moving abroad to continue their development requires spending a year off the radar. These players will need to dominate right off the bat to keep drawing the necessary attention. Unfortunately, dominating a professional league in a foreign country at the age of 18 is a monumental task, which will sometimes lead to players who take this route falling to the second round or going undrafted.
Those have been the two options available to young men and women for the last 14 years: go to college or head abroad, each coming with their pitfalls. Throughout the last decade, there have been calls for the league to work on implementing a third route to the league, one which caters to all players, a middle ground between the two extremes. Creating a third route to the pros sounded fantastic in principle, yet it continued to remain a pipe dream, with no clear project in place to bring this idea to fruition, until the G-League sent shockwaves throughout the basketball stratosphere.
The bombshell dropped on April 16, when high school phenom Jalen Green announced that he would be joining a newly formed G-League initiative on a one year deal worth around $500,000.
Twitter went wild: why would a player with such promise opt to jump straight to the G-league? How would this work? With a lack of further details at that moment in time, it was far too early to understand the decision-making process which had taken place.
Speculation continued to swirl for nigh-on 24 hours until Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports released an article detailing the project in depth. Those details are still seldom discussed, with fans and media alike always preferring to focus on this additional route high school ballplayers now have at their disposal. For the sake of transparency, the finer details of this new program are as follows:
- Players who participate in this program will receive a full college scholarship later in life.
- A new G-League “select” team will form and play a reduced schedule of “around 20 games”.
- The select team will keep “a few roster spots” for elite-level high school basketball players who wish to enter the program.
- The remainder of the roster will be made up of veteran players.
- The new team will be based in Los Angeles.
“This is an opportunity to develop for the next level and to show other kids alternative ways to develop your own career and brands.” – Marcus Green talking to Yahoo Sports
Creating a new team in the G-League will undoubtedly have repercussions on the rest of the league, and not only in terms of revenue. It will also affect the scouts present, changes to the usual schedule, and so forth.
DJ McCall of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants spoke to Double Clutch about these repercussions:
“For me, as a player in the G-League, I was very happy for the league. I think it’s wonderful. It’s not only great for the league, but it’s good for the NBA too. I want to say that this player and the G-League coming out with this option for high school seniors to take instead of going to college, I think it might have come out two or two and a half years ago. But for a player like Jalen Green to jump on it, it will just open up the confidence for other guys to jump on it.
“I think it’s awesome of the G-League to pay for Jalen’s and other guys who will take this path’s college education. I think it’s great, and to see where the G-League has come from, from the CBA to the D-League, to where it is now, I am thankful to be a part of it.”
With Jalen Green as the only member of this new select team roster, it remains questionable if any other high school talent will be inclined to make this jump this season. The odds are that players who are due to graduate in the next couple of years will be watching Jalen’s development with keen eyes, should this experiment prove to be a success, this path projects to be one that becomes well-traveled.
Creating a project like this is always a gutsy move for all parties involved, one which the NCAA will be watching with keen interest, as should this prove successful, some of the best talent in the country may no longer be in their reach. Jalen Green now stands on the precipice of history, unfortunately for him, how this tale ends may be out of his control.
For anyone interested in following the G-League next year, and keeping up-to-date with this topic, you can stream all the games for free via Twitch, or catch extended YouTube highlights on the official G-League channel.
I am an aspiring NBA Journalist based out of the UK, i am a lead writer for SB Nation's CelticsBlog, Staff writer for DoubleClutchUK and co-founder of The 450 Times. A podcast expert, having previously run a podcast network and hosted a string of shows over the last two years. Currently the host of the CelticsBlog podcast and co-anchor of The 450 Times podcast.