For every high school basketball player, the goal is simple, get that Division 1 scholarship, show out in college, enter the NBA draft and get paid. But with a handful of players showing that not playing in college can still land you in the NBA, is the NCAA losing its appeal to these elite level players?
The most recent player to take his name out of the college basketball hat is James Wiseman. On Thursday, December 19th, Wiseman officially withdrew from The University of Memphis and prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft. Wiseman was deemed ineligible to play by the NCAA for taking benefits from Penny Hardaway before Hardaway becoming the Head Coach of Memphis. Wiseman filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and was able to play 3 games for the Tigers, but the NCAA laid down the hammer, ruling Wiseman out for the entire season. While many see this as a negative for Wiseman, his decision will prove to be more of a benefit than a negative.
First is the elimination of injury risk. The 7-foot-1 center will go from playing a long, grueling college season to simply working out with elite level trainers. Through this Wiseman is eliminating the wear and tear so many college players see and focus only on improving his strength in the sport. This will prove to be important, as injuries in college are the killer of many players draft stock, and even careers.
We’ve seen how this can affect star players; most recently, Michael Porter Jr picked up a serious back injury while playing for Missouri. After his surgery, the projected top 3 pick, fell to 14 and hasn’t lived up to the star status many guaranteed he would become.
The second and more important of the two is simply that Wiseman’s draft stock has remained the same regardless of not playing. Going into the season, Wiseman was a guaranteed top 3 in almost every mock draft. Even after withdrawing from Memphis, Wiseman has kept his place in the top 3. This will indefinitely send a message to elite high school players and challenge their prior beliefs that college basketball is the only way to go.
Lamelo Ball and R.J. Hampton
Two more players part of the 2020 draft class who took a different approach to get to the NBA are Lamelo Ball and R.J. Hampton. Both players decided to play abroad in the National Basketball League, Australia and New Zealand’s professional basketball league.
For Hampton, he chose to play abroad even after being recruited by top college teams such as Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas. For Ball, it was a bit different, despite being recruited by teams such as USC, his eligibility with the NCAA was already in shallow water. For both players to turn down the offer of playing for the best teams in the college, the NBL had to offer something that the NCAA couldn’t, and that’s money.
As I previously mentioned, most of the top basketball players are trying to get paid as fast as possible, hence the rise of the “One and done.” But as we all know, the NCAA is completely against paying their athletes, despite the revenue the players bring to the universities. Now bring in the opportunity of making money and playing professionally for a year, and that’s the NBL.
Hampton and Ball are both on paid contracts for two years that include buy out clauses for NBA teams. In addition to getting paid, the two are both being exposed to professional talent, which in most cases is even more influential than suiting up for a game against a low division 1 or division 2 university. Both of these have equated to the two remaining high first-round picks in most of the mock drafts at this point of the season, Ball being a top-five pick in most.
So for these three players in the 2020 class, have they changed the perspective of how people view college basketball? The answer is probably yes, in Wiseman’s case, players now see that you don’t necessarily need to risk your body and career and play for a college, but go and workout with NBA trainers and go straight to the league. In Ball and Hampton’s case, they’ve shown that you can get paid playing for that one year, get professional exposure and remain high on the draft boards.
With these two paths now in play, it’s no doubt players will start and follow in the footsteps of Wiseman, Ball and Hampton. For the NCAA, this is bad news, for three of the best talents to turn you away and prove it doesn’t hurt their draft stock, change is needed and it needs to come fast. With options in place that make them less appealing, what will the NCAA do to remain the top choice of high school players?