G-League Blue-Chip Path is Much Ado About Nothing

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Time for a calendar reminder. About a year ago, news broke about an FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. It was a bombshell that scattered shrapnel throughout the sport. At the time, pundits opined that the 2017-18 season would be all doom and gloom.

As it does so well, the NCAA jerked its knee and decided to be reactive instead of proactive. The Rice Commission was formed to fix what was ailing college hoops. Ominous leaks and rumors of what was to come dribbled out during the season. But a funny thing happened on the way to the gallows – last season was just like previous seasons, full of upsets, great games and another enjoyable Final Four.

The Rice Commission’s report in April was a modern-day version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The most significant moves involve cosmetic and inconvenient changes to the summer recruiting calendar.

And that FBI investigation? The two weeks of trial testimony wrapped up last week with plenty of salacious information from witnesses about he said/he said conversations about paying for high school prospects. Hard evidence was in short supply. The case goes to the jury this week. The prosecution, according to those who monitored the court room action, failed to present a compelling case.

Which brings us to another October Surprise. Shakespeare never wrote a sequel to Much Ado About Nothing but last week’s Breaking News could qualify.

The NBA announced that starting next season its G League would offer Select Contracts to high-level prep players who don’t wish to or don’t qualify to play Division I basketball. Instead of the $35,000 G League salary, these special players would receive $125,000 for a one-year contract. After that, they would be eligible to be drafted/signed by NBA teams. And ineligible to play college basketball.

The announcement produced the typical Sound and Fury producing some hand wringing and pearl clutching about how this threatens college basketball. As a counter point, other observers filed this in the NBD (no big deal) file. Details are lacking for those needing to accurately assess this NBA gambit. As of now, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Among the many questions: How many “Select Contracts” will be available? Who decides which prep players qualify? How will these special players be distributed to G League teams? Will high schoolers need to declare their intention to be wooed? If so, how might that affect their college eligibility if that is still an option?

Until there are answers to those questions, the Select Contract option is shrouded in mystery.

Your Veteran Scribe’s take is that the NBA is firing a shot across the bow of the S.S. NCAA. The Rice commission laid some of the blame for college basketball’s problems at the feet of the early entry rule which has spawned the One And Done Era.

While there are discussions about removing the age requirement for the NBA Draft, keep in mind that commissioner Adam Silver’s main charge is improving the league and serving his bosses (the owners).

Solving the NCAA’s problems – or creating more problems with Select Contracts – is not Silver’s concern. He’ll play nice but on his terms. College basketball provides an excellent feeder system that has been enhanced by scouts assessing freshmen phenoms against top competition instead of just observing high school or summer league contests.

Let’s not forget how and why a player must be 19 to be eligible for the NBA.

After three seasons at Purdue, Glenn Robinson declared for the draft and was the No. 1 pick in the 1994 Draft. Milwaukee eventually signed Big Dog to a rookie-record 10-year, $68 million deal. Even for a player like Robinson, who had demonstrated his skills for three years in college, owners and veteran players were aghast at a rookie getting that much legal tender.

The next year, the NBA and the players association agreed to a rookie salary system. A sliding scale of contract money was instituted, and all rookies were signed to three-year deals. If in three years a player was worth it, he could sign a more lucrative deal with his team or as a free agent. If the player was a three-year bust, the cost to the team was minimized.

High school players were still eligible, and the NBA was dealing with the crap shoot of wasting draft picks and three-year deals. Of course, NBA owners and general managers could have restrained themselves and simply not drafted high school seniors but that’s like expecting politicians to tell the truth.

In 2005, the NBA and the players’ union agreed to the age limit of 19 (then-commissioner David Stern wanted 20). This also changed the free-agent “clock” – the chance at the big payday was at age 22 (similar to most college seniors). That meant teams would be throwing mo’ money at free agents who were a year older and, supposedly, more mature in body and mind.

What the G League’s Select Contract offers is an option for players who either don’t qualify for Division I hoops or who think their path to The Show is best-served by spending five months in the minors.

Is it a viable option? Yes. Will it be a good choice? Maybe, if that’s a high schooler’s only choice.

Any young man taking this route must understand that $125,000, while about triple what other G Leaguers make, isn’t gonna buy momma a new house. Also, it’s taxable income. (Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who received a signing bonus of nearly $5 million from the Oakland A’s, has said one of his first lessons about his new life was about … income tax.)

The “G” in G League doesn’t stand for glamorous. Early morning commercial flights, often with connections (to save money) or long bus rides. Minimal exposure (hardly any televised games) in front of crowds that sometimes number in the 100s. Coaches often are gaining experience as much as the players they coach. Practice time to work on skills is limited. Many teams lack weight training facilities or trainers.

Contrast that with a year in college, where at the highest levels of D-I it’s all about first class travel, coaching, training, nutrition and skill development. And, maybe a few irritating months of attending class.

Late last March, Darius Bazley announced he planned to make himself eligible for the G League. A 5-star prospect who had committed to Syracuse, Bazley’s decision made news. His decision in August flew under the radar.

Instead of toiling in the minors, he’ll spend this season training to get ready for the 2019 NBA Draft. It won’t be like playing for the Orange in the ACC.

It will, however, be more lucrative. Bazley’s agent is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (18 NBA clients including LeBron James, John Wall and Ben Simmons). Paul signed Bazley to a shoe contract with New Balance worth a minimum of $1 million with a max of $14 million. In January, February and March, as Syracuse battles for NCAA seeding, Bazley will be interning at New Balance. He’s the first signee as the company relaunches its basketball brand.

Bazley is getting paid while other stars in the Class of 2018 await their paydays (those who haven’t yet received their shoe company paper bags of cash in convenience story parking lots.) He’ll miss out on competition, but he’ll be training while getting a look at how the business world functions. Paul became Bazley’s agent in May and started working on an alternative to the grind of the G League.

With Select Contracts available, how many players in the Class of 2019 will go that route? That’s another unanswered question. There can’t be a threat assessment of the G League unless and until the NBA supplies a basket full of details and explanations.

We’ll check back … in a year.