The G-League puts fear in the NCAA

By: Jalon Dixon, Staff Writer

As if the NCAA was not suffering enough with the cancellation of its biggest money maker, March Madness, college basketball takes another hit as top prospect Jalen Green looks to forego the college scene to join the G-League’s Professional Pathway Program.

On April 16, the landscape of both the NCAA and the NBA were shaken as the Fresno, California phenom made his groundbreaking announcement on Instagram Live as part of an interview on the Posted-Up Podcast with Yahoo Sports’ Senior NBA Insider Chris Haynes.

Green becomes just the fourth top-five player in the ESPN 100 to forgo college alongside RJ Hampton who is a top prospect in the upcoming 2020 draft, New York Knicks’ guard Emmanuel Mudiay, and former NBA guard Brandon Jennings. As a participant in the Pathway program, elite prospects like Green and five-star forward recruit Isaiah Todd (No. 13 in ESPN 100) who recently decommitted from Michigan, will be paid $500,000 as they play as part of a travel team based out of Southern California that will take on G-League teams across the country as well as some of the NBA youth academy teams overseas.

Green also made it clear that the G-League is not depriving him of an academic opportunity, saying that “I’m still able to go back to college and finish school.” 

The chance to go to still get an education while making a significant amount of money and the chance to work under veteran NBA pros: sounds like the NCAA is in big trouble.

Although the G-League may not have been directly involved in the past, top prospects have continued to find loopholes around the one and done rule. In the last three years, we have had a few different instances where these young potential stars have found a way to dodge the clutches of the NCAA.

New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson graduated from high school and enrolled at Western Kentucky, but left before the season started and declared for the 2018 NBA draft. He was selected in the second round with the 36th pick by New York. Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons and Phoenix Suns guard Jalen Lecque both reclassified, essentially skipping their senior year of high school to either accelerate up to the college ranks or in this case to enter the NBA draft. 

Oklahoma City forward Darius Bazley passed on going to Syracuse to take on a $1 million internship with New Balance before being selected with the No. 23 pick in last year’s draft. Then of course, there are guards Lamelo Ball and R.J. Hampton, two lottery-projected picks in the 2020 NBA draft who went to Australia to play in the National Basketball League.

We have all seen the many kinds of routes that a young high school prospect can take, but the national media believes that this may possibly be the best route for the elite players who feel that they are ready for the next level. ESPN’s NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke down the news on NBA Countdown expressing the logic behind not only Green’s decision, but also NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s commitment to developing this new, unique pathway to the pro level.

“What really pushed this thing along was Lamelo Ball and R.J. Hampton going to Australia for around the same amount of money,” Wojnarowski said. “Adam Silver is saying there is no reason that these players should have to go across the world to play if they don’t want to be in that NCAA structure.”

“This is now a legitimate option for players to get into the NBA’s development system and not have to go to Australia and not have to play college basketball if that’s not the route they want to go,” Wojnarowski added.

Other members of national sports media like ESPN First Take’s Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman sounded off on Green’s decision believing that not only is this great for the product of the NBA, but it forces the NCAA to take a good, hard look at themselves and the policies that they have in place.

“This is a beautiful, beautiful thing and it puts the NCAA on notice that you can’t get away with exploiting these athletes the way that you’ve been doing for decades,” Smith said. “Your time is up; the NBA is on the scene.”

“It doesn’t hurt the NBA at all, maybe a little bit in the sense that now it can’t be the star making machine it once was for the NBA, but the NBA makes stars by themselves very well,” Kellerman added. “They look really good right now by comparison, the NCAA looks as usual: Short sighted and foolish.”

The NCAA has since then responded somewhat, they are nearing a new agreement that would allow players to make some profit off of their accomplishments without risking an NCAA rules violation. The NCAA’s official announcement on the ruling states, “While student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed. The board emphasized that at no point should a university or college pay student-athletes for name, image and likeness activities.” 

Although this is definitely a significant step in the right direction, the language of the terms and the vagueness of the statement does leave a few unaddressed questions. How will this affect player compensation for jerseys sold with their number on it? How does this impact companies like 2K and EA Sports who for a long time have longed to get back to redeveloping college basketball and football video games for the first time since 2014. 

These rules will not go into effect until the 2021-2022 school year, giving the NCAA more than enough time to address these issues. Nonetheless, as of right now they have a lot of work to do to truly re-establish themselves as the most equal-opportunity industry for potential NBA prospects to prepare themselves for the pro level.

Even with the recent developments by the NCAA, it is easy to say that Green has truly become a potential trendsetter for top NBA prospects down the road like Lincoln High School forward and the first ever sophomore Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner, Emoni Bates. Not every top player will go the G-League route and nor is this program foolproof considering it is still in the early stages of its development, but it is the opportunity that matters. Just the fact that prospects now have another option besides being forced out of the country to play basketball overseas to get compensated or going “one-and-done” for a year in college for free is a huge development for the amateur ranks of basketball. 

The future of the NBA continues to get brighter as the new guard of prospects and play style get more exciting by the dribble. The current NBA season itself may be on hold, but the conversation around the NBA is buzzing more than ever.

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