With the NBA refusing to allow players under 19 years of age to be eligible to play in the league and college basketball rife with allegations of fraud and corruption, the NBL has decided to provide an interesting alternative for high school players aspiring to reach the NBA.
As part of the NBL’s “Next Stars” program, the move will see international players who are projected to be NBA draft picks, offered deals up to $100,000 (approximately $78,000 U.S.) to sign with NBL teams.
College basketball has its limitations, NCAA rules state players are only allowed to participate in 20 hours of sport-related activity per week (that’s 4 hours per day for training, gym, shootarounds, individual workouts, etc), and of course players are required to attend classes and maintain certain grade averages.
The NBL “Next Stars” program will provide NBA hopefuls with an apartment, a car, flights, individual development training, as well as the opportunity to spend as much time on the court or in the gym, prior to the draft while being financially rewarded.
All of this while having access to elite level professional coaching and the experience of playing in a professional league to prepare themselves for the rigours of NBA life.
“While they are in the NBL, we will work with the players to help them develop an acute understanding of the life of a professional basketballer on and off the court and ensure they are equipped to make the transition to their professional careers.” NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman told media.
The move will see the NBL adding an extra roster spot to accommodate these players so local talent numbers are not affected and player salaries (at least for the first year) will be funded by the league itself, removing any financial burden to NBL clubs.
Players like high school shooting guard Anfernee Simmons, tipped to be a top 20 draft pick and currently considering completing a fifth year of high school then entering the NBA draft is a perfect candidate for the program.
Low hanging fruit for the NBL initiative could also be players like USC sophomore De’Anthony Melton or Auburn freshman Austin Wiley who have both been suspended from NCAA play, due to their involvement in FBI investigations. This has left these players in a state of limbo with them also being unable to play in the NBA’s G-League as rules prohibit players from entering the G-League within the same academic calendar year they enrolled in college.
What type of players the program attracts and how successful in propelling players to the NBA is something we’ll have to wait to see. The bigger question perhaps is what changes will this force within the NBL, NBA and college basketball landscapes.
“It’s all about the shoes”
Terrance Ferguson proved the model works last year where he becomes the 21st pick in the NBA draft after a season with the Adelaide 36ers. During that time it’s thought Adelaide paid Ferguson approximately $70,000 to play down under, but it’s the $500,000 shoe deal provided to Ferguson from Under Armour which made the move a no-brainer.
When Ferguson decided he wouldn’t (or couldn’t due to his grades) attend the University of Arizona, the Adelaide 36ers’ offer of working with elite coaches and being able to hit the gym everyday while he took his family on a six month holiday to sunny Australia was tempting, but when he realised he could earn more by spending six months in Australia than most second-round draft picks (approx. $450,000) or what NBA players on two-way deals (approx. $250,000) were making, it was a done deal.
The level of NBL talent dramatically improves
It’s unlikely many players jumping from high school to the NBL will make a huge impact, Ferguson only averaged a modest 4.6 points in 15 minutes per game with the 36ers and then saw his minutes drop to 9 per game in the playoffs.
During that time, however, all 30 NBA teams visited or made contact with the 36ers regarding Ferguson’s development. Australian’s Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey and Matt Hodgson, all teammates of Ferguson, were scouted by proxy by the same NBA scouts, something that paid off greatly with each of the trio receiving NBA tryouts the same year.
Current NBL import players Bryce Cotton (Perth) and Jerome Randle (Sydney) are reportedly earning between $400,000-$600,000 and although they could easily earn an extra $200,000-$300,000 by playing in Europe (if their European club pays up, which isn’t guaranteed) isn’t the opportunity to play in front of NBA scouts on a weekly basis worth sacrificing $200,000? Especially when you know you will get the money you agreed to, there’s no language barrier and you can spend your time outside basketball in the sun and surf that Australia is renowned for?
NBL profits from additional revenue streams
When the Thunder drafted Ferguson, he was on a multi-year deal with Adelaide and to acquire him, the Thunder had to buy-out his existing contract with the 36ers. NBA teams can pay up to $700,000 to release a player out of his contract, so the sum Adelaide received for Ferguson far outweighed the entire contract value, providing the 36ers with a cash injection which they potentially used to sign former NBA star Josh Childress with the following season.
A whole new marketing strategy
Think of the benefits the NBL gains from media outlets like ESPN regularly reporting on its players and teams. Surely it helps the league attract higher profile imports but it’s also something that could grab the attention of basketball officials in China with whom the NBL is currently trying to woo and work with, to create an Australasian “Euroleague-type” competition in the future.
Revenue obtained from NBA buy-outs combined with additional game attendance and TV viewership (including the league’s subscription-based NBL.tv), courtesy of increased interest from hoops fans wanting to see future NBA stars before they make the pros, means there is nothing to lose and everything to gain for the once fledgeling league, which almost folded just three short years ago.
How long until the NBA or NCAA wake up?
While there are huge opportunities for the NBL here, there is next to no advantage for college basketball, who are losing players nor is there for the NBA, who are having to pay additional buy-out fees to sign draft picks.
Up until now, college basketball has been extremely reluctant to pay college athletes and the NBA has so far refused to allow high school players to enter the league. It would be unlikely both the NBA and NCAA continue with the status quo, whilst a tiny country with a population smaller than Texas capitalizes on the situation.