College Basketball is Doomed as High School Prospects With NBA Dreams Are Learning How to Get Paid to Play

Even up until a few years ago, top high school basketball recruits dreamed of playing college basketball. UNC, Duke, and Kentucky were fantasy destinations even if players were leaving to enter the NBA draft after one season. But the longtime tradition of “One Shining Moment” is falling further and further back in the rearview mirror. The sport of college basketball is doomed, along with the NCAA as a whole, as the top high school prospects in the country are learning how to get paid to play.

There are more ways than ever before to reach the NBA. As college sports are becoming a business and athletes try to build their brands, the top players in the country are discovering how to make money on their way to the league instead of getting paid to play for free.

Players are finding better avenues to reach the NBA, which spells doom for college basketball

The Baylor Bears and Gonzaga Bulldogs compete for a rebound during the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship game.
The Baylor Bears and the Gonzaga Bulldogs compete during the second half of the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NBA ended players’ abilities to enter the draft straight out of high school in 2006. What eventually became known as the “One-and-Done” rule still exists in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The reasoning, at the time, was sound: The majority of 18-year-olds are not mature enough — physically or mentally — to handle playing in the NBA. For their own good, they should spend a year between high school and the NBA, or at least wait until they’re 19 years old so that once they get there, they have a better chance at success.

Over the past few years, the thought was that at some point early in the 2020s, the NBA would get rid of the rule and let high school prospects enter the draft again. Teams even planned trades around it, stockpiling picks hoping that they could be the first to land the country’s top high school players.

That hasn’t happened.

It apparently won’t anytime soon either, according to Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod, courtesy of CBSSports:

 “It is not on the horizon, largely because the union and the league, as part of letting the high school players back into the draft, the league has wanted players to have to make available their physicals and medical evaluations to all teams…

“That’s been the major sticking point for a couple of years now. And there’s a real strong possibility that the one-and-done conversation isn’t picked up again until the next collective bargaining agreement in 2025.”

Adrian Wojnarowski on ‘The Woj Pod’ on the possibility of high school players going straight to the NBA draft

In response, other options have become available to players. The NBA G League, for example, created the Ignite, a team high school players can join for a year before entering the draft. There’s also the Overtime Elite league that’s offering players a similar path. Playing overseas is always an option as well, as the NBL in Australia has landed a few top high school prospects over the past few seasons.

Those avenues are better for top prospects as they allow players to earn money while playing against professionals

The last two NBA drafts have featured four players from either the Ignite or the NBL who have been picked in the first round. LaMelo Ball, who won the 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year Award, is the headliner. Two of the top seven 2021 draft picks — Jalen Green, selected No. 2 overall by the Houston Rockets, and Jonathan Kuminga, selected seventh overall by the Golden State Warriors — are Ignite alums. RJ Hampton, who played in the NBL with Ball, was picked 24th overall in 2020.

The competition in the NBL isn’t on par with some of the best leagues in the world, but clearly, the experience worked for Ball. The Ignite, however, became a trial by fire for Green and Kuminga. Both teenagers played against former and future NBA players in the G League. Other grown men in that league, and on that team, were playing for their NBA careers.

The Overtime Elite just picked up their biggest signing to date in Jalen Lewis, a 16-year-old high school junior who was ranked as the No. 12 player in the class of 2023 in the 247Sports composite rankings. Lewis is now the youngest professional basketball player in American history, according to SI.com. He’s set to earn more than $1 million over the course of his contract.

The league also added two other top-20 prospects from the class of 2023 as that entity continues to grow, led by former University of Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie. OTE players are set to compete against each other within the league and against other domestic and international teams, according to its website.

As other options continue to gain traction, college basketball will continue to lose

NCAA sports, in general, are in a state of upheaval, but basketball is in the most immediate danger because its players can already just say no to college. It worked out for Ball, Green, and Kuminga, who all became top-10 NBA draft picks. It worked out for Hampton as he also became a first-round pick. Class of 2023 prospects have signed with OTE (so they won’t be eligible for the draft until 2024), but it sounds like the league is promising better competition along with significant paychecks.

The NCAA is kidding itself if it believes the new Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policy will make a difference. Options that give recruits better competition, along with compensation, are always going to be more popular. It sounds like they already are.

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