Top high school recruit skipping college could reshape basketball

California high-schooler Jalen Green reportedly will make close to $500,000 playing under the NBA’s G League umbrella, but not for a specific team in the league.
Jalen Green of Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) drives to the basket during a game against La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) at the Hoophall Classic on Jan. 19, 2020, in Springfield, Mass.
Jalen Green of Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) drives to the basket during a game against La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) at the Hoophall Classic on Jan. 19, 2020, in Springfield, Mass. [ GREGORY PAYAN | AP ]
Published April 17, 2020

LOS ANGELES — In a move that could change the way the NBA, the NCAA and high school basketball prospects do business, Jalen Green will spurn college to essentially become an apprentice for the NBA.

How much will it change? That’s unknown.

Green, considered by some as the No. 1 overall recruit in this year’s high school class and widely considered a top prospect for the 2021 NBA draft, will make close to $500,000 to train with a team of professionals adjacent to the NBA’s G League. The team, which doesn’t yet exist and won’t play in the developmental league, could end up being in Southern California, as some media outlets have reported.

Green’s signing is different from the program that was expected to allow top players the chance to use the G League as a bridge between high school and the NBA. No player ever signed under that 2018 initiative.

The team will scrimmage against current G League teams and function as a prep academy, with basketball as the specialty. There is speculation the team could travel and compete against international competition in exhibitions. Green, and any others who follow, will play under the G League umbrella, focusing on draft preparation, basketball readiness and life skills.

According to sources with knowledge of the plans but not authorized to speak publicly, things are fluid. The G League is scheduled to hold a call with owners and executives Friday. Each of the 28 teams in the league is affiliated with an NBA team. Denver and Portland do not have affiliates.

With Green on board, the NBA has its first true pipeline project in hand.

“We’re thrilled to welcome a player and a person of Jalen’s caliber to the NBA G League,” said G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim said. “He represents the next generation of NBA players, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him develop his professional skills in our league. Jalen will learn from an NBA-caliber coaching and player development staff as he begins his professional basketball journey in the NBA G League.”

A 6-foot-5 guard from Fresno, Calif., Green picked the NBA’s development program over scholarship offers from Florida State, Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis and a host of others. As part of his deal with the NBA, he’ll have a scholarship to the school of his choosing if he decides to eventually attend college.

“The ultimate end goal is to get to the NBA,” Green said on Instagram Live during his announcement. "I think the main reason for this is I want to get better, want to develop. … This is the best route to prepare myself so I could be ready when my time comes.”

According to The Athletic, five-star Baltimore forward Isaiah Todd will also join the NBA’s development program. Todd had previously committed to Michigan.

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Green isn’t the first top high school basketball prospect to spurn college for professional opportunities. After the NBA banned the drafting of high school players in 2006, some top prep players have spent a year overseas.

Brandon Jennings went to Italy. Emmanuel Mudiay went to China. And most recently and famously, LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton played in Australia. Ball is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2020 NBA draft, which is scheduled for June 25.

The NBA and players’ union have discussed ending the league’s ban on high school players as part of ongoing collective bargaining discussions.

The NBA attempted to create an alternative with its pathway to professionalism program, which would’ve payed top prospects $125,000 to spend a year in the G League before entering the draft.

The program, which was launched in 2018 and enacted this last season, didn’t attract any takers, in part because the money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

The solution — an elite team that doesn’t compete and isn’t affiliated with any NBA team that provides richer contracts — helped the idea get its first takers.

While players have always been able to jump to the G League directly from high school since its inception in 2001 (the league requires players to be at least 18 years old), the new system is intended to reward players headed for big paydays in the near future by providing a workspace for basketball development while also instituting life skills and mentoring opportunities.

The fallout for the NCAA could be that the best players in each recruiting class could accept paydays without having to live abroad, making it a more attractive option. College sports has slowly adapted legislation allowing for players to profit from their names, images and likenesses, but NCAA approval won’t likely come until 2021 at the earliest.

Still UCLA coach Mick Cronin said college basketball shouldn’t feel threatened.

“College basketball will always be popular. I believe players should be able to go in the draft out of high school,” Cronin told the Los Angeles Times. “College basketball and our brand will always be the best way for a player to showcase himself and develop in the United States. But college isn’t for everyone and that’s OK.”