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Yes, the G-League is now a legitimate alternative to college basketball

It’s safe to say that Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 will not go down as a banner day in the history of college basketball.

Early in the day, Isaiah Todd, a five-star recruit who had been committed to Michigan since the fall, announced that he would pursue pro options. Later in the day, speculation began to ramp up, that the No. 2 player in America Jalen Green, who had seemingly been set to make a college choice between Auburn and Memphis this week, will instead turn pro on Thursday (it’s not confirmed, but that’s the buzz). And shortly after midnight the internet blew up with rumors that the G-League is in pursuit of several other elite high school players, like the ones from this private school that has an excellent basketball team.

Our own Matt Jones reported that Kentucky signee Terrence Clarke was one of those players, and that the G-League was now offering upwards of $500,000 to players interested in pursuing that path.

Eventually the rumors died down Wednesday morning, when Clarke announced that he would in fact be coming to Kentucky.

Still, it doesn’t change a new reality: In the matter of literally a few days, the G-League has become yet another legitimate option for kids who aren’t interested in playing college basketball. That along with Australia, other overseas options and simply training for a year.

On the one hand, we really shouldn’t be surprised by this development. Since the day RJ Hampton announced he was planning to play in Australia, I’ve said that I believed it would open the path for more players who weren’t interested in going to college. Heck, it’s easy to forget that it already happened last year, when after Hampton declared, both LaMelo Ball and Terry Armstrong (a former Arizona commit) elected to go to Australia. Another player named KJ Martin tried to pursue the pro path, but wasn’t deemed good enough. He instead did a year in prep school this past season at IMG Academy.

Still, throughout this past season rumors continued to swirl that there were in fact quite a few high school players in the class of 2020 who were considering the pro option. At one point, I had heard the number could be as high as 8-12, and that 4-5 was probably realistic (And yes, I had heard dating back to the late fall that Terrence Clarke could be one of those players – not that he would be, but that his camp was at least interested in hearing offers).

Again, this news shouldn’t be that surprising. Prior to Covid-19 essentially shutting down the whole world, it felt like we were destined to lose about half a dozen guys to the professional ranks.

Where things got surprising however is that the G-League has now become a viable alternative for these kids. And there’s one reason for that: It’s that seemingly out of nowhere, the money has become a lot better than it was even a year ago. Or for that matter, just a few weeks ago.

Understand that it was almost two full years ago when the G-League first announced that they would start a “Select Program” for elite high school players. At the time they said that they would offer players who they felt were ready and capable of playing at that level a contract of around $125,000. The program never seriously picked up traction because of the dollar amount. While $125,000 is great money, especially for an 18-year-old kid, it just wasn’t enough. For elite high school players, there was too much risk and not enough gain to put your career and draft stock on the line for 125k.

What has changed however is that dollar amount. As Matt Jones  reported (and others eventually confirmed),  the G-League is now offering upwards of $500,000 to elite high school players. That money might not be “top of the lottery” kind of cash, but it is enough for some players to seriously consider that route as a legitimate option. Some, like Terrence Clarke still feel like it’s not enough to risk the uncertainty of playing against grown men. But it appears as though others are considering it.

So what changed in the money? Well, it’s hard to say, but if you follow the tea leaves, I can give you one guess: Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, wasn’t happy seeing his best high school players go overseas last summer. After Hampton decided to go to Australia, he dropped a very interesting quote about the subject.

“I am a little jealous because we are, in our G League, trying to create our own professional track,” Silver said.

“Jealous,” huh? Now, does that sound like a man who was happy that the best American-born players were heading around the world to play basketball, especially when the NBA is pouring money into the G-League? It doesn’t seem so, which is why you’re likely seeing the money increase.

So with the dollar figures now out there, the question is “what’s next.” And that’s where it gets interesting.

If you’re a fan of college basketball, selfishly (and I hate to say it) the best thing that can happen for the sport is for these high school kids to struggle at that level. And to be blunt, I think some will (again, I hate to say it, but I could see Isaiah Todd really struggling).

The bottom-line is that the G-League is full of guys who are good enough to be in the NBA, but simply don’t have the opportunity, whether it’s because of roster numbers, playing time or their contract situation. Just as an example, here is the roster of the best team in the G-League, the Wisconsin Herd. Frank Mason, a college All-American was their leading scorer, with Luke Maye (there’s that name again), former lottery pick Dragan Bender and former first rounder DJ Wilson making spot appearances throughout the season. How about this: Brandon McCoy, a McDonald’s All-American who played one season at UNLV seemingly can’t get off the bench. It won’t be easy for any high school player to get on the court in this league, let alone have success.

So really, if two, three, four or more players elect to play in the G-League next year (assuming there is in fact a season) it could have long-term ramifications on this program, and whether high school players consider it a legit option. If players have success, the NBA and G-League will see it as a good investment, and players will see it as a good option and absolutely worth the money. If these players struggle, and their physical or emotional maturity comes out, the NBA itself could realize that college basketball still in fact is a great “minor league” for them. And players could realize that the college game is the safer road. Heck, if it goes bad enough, I could see the NBA shelving the talk of removing the one-and-done rule. I’m not saying it will happen, but I could see it.

Now, whether you want to root against 18-year-old kids succeeding is completely up to you. But again, their successes or failures could largely shape the future of the G-League, college basketball and even the NBA Draft.

Still, right now, as of today, there is no doubt: The G-League is in fact another threat to college basketball.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

15 Comments for Yes, the G-League is now a legitimate alternative to college basketball

  1. michaelb
    8:52 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    They had to raise the salaries of the g league when the pro gamers started making more money than the athletes via nba2k .

  2. UKinIN
    8:58 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    I’m a fan of college basketball not the NBA. As an outsider I see Silver as a fanboy. He’s all about the players and not the quality of the product. But I don’t begrudge the kids doing what they want.

  3. UKLugo
    9:04 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    Let them go. College ball will march on. There will still be good players and probably better teams that go along with all of the other things that make college ball fans love the sport and industry.
    Now where it gets tricky and annoying is that the G-League plays by their own rules. They don’t care about commitments or the NCAA. A kid like Clarke or Todd may commit to their school. In the past, you rarely see basketball players flipped. Happens a lot in football. But a kid may even have his papers signed and still be getting recruited to leave. This will get annoying.

    • WKY Cat
      9:33 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

      Or a kid might possibly leave in the middle of the college season.

  4. binarysolo
    9:40 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    I’m all in favor for letting these kids choose whether to go to college or the pros after HS. Kids freely make this choice in other industries, why should basketball be any different?

    But I do think it’s a mistake to offer a salary so disproportionately higher than the league average when they haven’t proven anything at the professional level. The G League salary is $35,000 and they offered Terrence Clarke $500,000. In contrast, in the NBA, the top overall pick in the draft barely makes the league average.

    • CrystalBall
      11:00 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

      They do have a choice, binarysolo. No rule, law, regulation forces them to go to college.

  5. blueNtheFace
    10:17 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    Is there any way (or a hope) that this could start a wave that would result in the NBA changing its rules to include coming straight out of HS and if not they have to be two years removed from HS? Just a thought.

  6. CombatMedic_98
    11:06 pm April 15, 2020 Permalink

    College BBall excitement JUST ENDED…!

  7. Aar
    11:17 am April 16, 2020 Permalink

    I think this is a good development and a long time coming. Just hope the G-league makes their offers to HS players much earlier in the process, like after their Junior year of HS. That way all the cards are on the table, colleges can appropriately prioritize recruits and recruits can truly understand their options as opposed to continuing delusions of going pro without an offer. While basketball will never have a baseball rule, this is getting closer and it’s a good thing.

    • blueNtheFace
      1:10 pm April 16, 2020 Permalink

      It feels as though it’s headed in the right direction at least. We can hope anyway

  8. VulcanEar
    1:55 pm April 16, 2020 Permalink

    It’s about time and there is no one to blame but the NCAA. This is America, you’re supposed to get paid for your work.

  9. kjd
    1:59 pm April 16, 2020 Permalink

    Yes, changes college basketball especially for UK. Coach Cal has not won it all without elite talent.

  10. Looother
    3:59 pm April 16, 2020 Permalink

    Thanks for another informative post, Aaron…