Why the NCAA might not be the best route to the NBA anymore

Basketball around the world is getting better every year. Rookie's from other countries keep surprising us every year. With RJ Hampton's move over to the NBL will we see more recruits going overseas instead of going to the NCAA?

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There are many ways to get to the NBA. Many players choose to go to college then enter the draft, this would be the most traditional way. Now high school recruits are considering going overseas. Although the NBA season just started and mock drafts are really early right now, the players who are overseas are projected to go in the top 10.

Every year around 551,373 highschool students in the US play basketball on a competitive school team. Only 3.4% of these players go on to play college basketball in one of the many divisions. These players usually choose the NCAA as their bridge to the NBA. However, recently there have been some players that went overseas and from the looks of how they have performed, their draft stock has risen. NBA teams have drafted players from overseas in the past, but this is the first time we have seen players with a huge following going overseas. We keep seeing rookies from overseas surprise us like Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokoumpo who are still very new to the league and both of whom came from overseas and blossomed into superstars.

83.2% of NBA players in the league today attended an NCAA school before being drafted. One reason the NCAA has always been the traditional way to get to the NBA is that Division I games are constantly airing on national television giving players a spotlight to prove themselves to NBA scouts. Every Division I college has talented players that want to face the best competition possible so the NBA scouts know that they’re ready for the next level of play. 5-star recruits will sometimes choose a non-powerhouse college, lead them to wins and possibly secure a spot in March Madness. Although risky for players, if they are able to lead a school, NBA scouts will be impressed. They demonstrate leadership and high knowledge of the game.

However, the game of basketball has been developing at a rapid rate around the world and the overseas competition level is rising. Every year we see foreign players prove they are on the level of American superstars. Luka Doncic in 2018 was drafted 3rd by the Atlanta Hawks and later traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young. Doncic, from Ljubljana, Slovenia, was just 15 when he joined Real Madrid’s Basketball team. In the Euro League, Doncic became the youngest player to win the MVP award while helping Real Madrid win a championship before he left for the NBA draft. Luka made an immediate impact on the NBA winning Rookie of the Year. Even with accolades like these people were doubting his skill coming out of europe. He is one of many European players that are dominating in the NBA, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Rudy Gobert. 

With more and more foreign players recruited into the league, the game around the world is getting bigger and better. Since the last time Michael Jordan played in 2003, the number has increased by 14.5%. Teams from Europe, Australia, and China are competing at a higher level and being recognized for their efforts from the NBA.  Without these foreign teams, the NBA wouldn’t be as popular as it is. The Euro league, NBl, and CBA gathers basketball fans where the NBA may not be viewable. The now NBA does a world tour before the beginning of seasons. These NBA tour games happen in China, Japan, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. 24.5% of the NBA is made up of international players today. The league’s all time high was 25% during the 2016-2017 season. According to data compiled by Business Insider, in 1996 there were only 21 international players, and now there are 108.

This past summer, two 5 star recruits, Lamelo Ball and RJ Hampton, signed 1-year deals to 2 different teams in the NBL, a professional sports league located in Oceania. Hampton however reclassified to the class of 2019 and chose not to go to college. He had the grades and the skill to play in college with his final four schools being powerhouse teams. Despite that, he chose going pro overseas instead. He told ESPN, “My dream was never to play college basketball. My dream was always to get to the next level and play in the NBA. I wanted to live like a pro, play with grown men everyday and not have to juggle books and basketball.”

One reason that players have been considering going pro sooner and skipping the NCAA is that you haven’t been able to make money off your name in the NCAA. (Although that will change soon, now that the NCAA announced players will soon be able to profit off their name, image and likeness.)  Pro players sign paid contracts and earn money playing games. In the NBL, for example, typical salaries range from $60,000 to $100,000 USD.  With the money and competition growing every year we will see more players leaving the NCAA to play overseas.

With the addition of RJ and Lamelo playing in the NBL over the next few years, people should start seeing more top players start going the non traditional route to get to the NBA and start going overseas to teams.  So far, the overseas option has worked very well for Lamelo Ball and RJ Hampton as they are both projected to get drafted in the top 10. With the “one and done rule” being removed, soon the NCAA may not be the best way to the league anymore.

WikiMedia /Sakhalinio

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