The pressure is on for the NCAA once again! Another high-level NBA Draft prospect is showing that there could be a more prosperous road to the NBA than college basketball. On April 2, 2020, news broke that LaMelo Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson, plan to purchase the IIawarra Hawks. The Ilawarra Hawks is the Australian based National Basketball League (NBL) team that Ball played for last season. It became clear that Ball would not be playing college basketball a few years ago.
In 2017, LaMelo Ball signed with an agent and entered a contract to play in the Lithuanian Basketball League. Eventually, Ball returned to the United States to play high school basketball at the Spire Institute in Ohio. However, Ball's return to US high school basketball did not reinstate his eligibility for college basketball. He lost eligibility when he signed with an agent prior to playing in Lithuanian. As a result, after finishing at the Spire Institute Ball was left three options. Those options were to declare for the NBA Draft, play in the NBA G-League, or returning to playing professional basketball overseas. Ball chose to play professionally overseas.
LaMelo Ball and Other Highly Sought After Recruits Have Taken Unconventional Routes to the NBA Draft
LaMelo Ball is not the only player who opted to play professionally overseas. R.J. Hampton also opted out of college basketball to play for the NBL's New Zealand Breakers. Both Ball and Hampton come on the heels of Darius Bazley who ultimately decided not to attend college in 2018. Bazley was the 13th best high school player in the 2018 class. He was slated to play for Syracuse University before he backed out and opted for the NBA G-Leauge. He then decided not to play in the NBA G-League to do an internship with New Balance and prepare for the NBA Draft on his own. Bazley received a guaranteed $1 million for the internship and was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019.
Bazley along with his agent, Rich Paul, charted a new path to the NBA showing upcoming basketball players a new way. It is possible that LaMelo Ball is doing the same thing here. Ball has high draft potential for the 2020 NBA Draft without playing a second of college basketball. He also has the opportunity to have an ownership interest in the professional team he played for. Even if Ball ultimately does not become the owner of the team, he has already given future college basketball prospects something to think about.
Future College Basketball Prospects will Continue to Forge Their own Paths to the NBA Draft
Future college basketball prospects will wonder if they should go play professionally where they could have an opportunity to grow their brand, learn about business, and possibly own a team. They will weigh this against signing their rights to away college basketball for a system that acts like it is brain surgery to create a program where players can profit from their own name, image, and likeness. Either way, the NCAA has once again had to feel the pressure as players are forging other more profitable avenues to the NBA Draft.