Of the 58 players selected in the 2023 NBA Draft, 46 went the traditional route: They played collegiately. NBA teams have drafted a handful of players outside of that pathway for years, especially in the second round. Nearly 80 percent of players selected coming through the college ranks might appear normal. Except for the fact that four of the top-five selections, and half of the top 10 in 2023, never set foot on a college basketball court.
That is the highest number of non-Men’s College Basketball players selected in the top five since 2001, when players were still allowed to enter the NBA Draft out of high school. Pau Gasol was drafted out of Spain while Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry went straight from the prep section of the sports page to the Association. Even with the requirement that players be one year removed from the year of their high school graduation, the only college-basketball player selected in the top five of the 2023 draft was Brandon Miller by the Charlotte Hornets.
Scoot Henderson graduated high school early and signed with G-League Ignite in 2021. He was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the third-overall pick. Twins Amer and Ausar Thompson joined the Overtime Elite influencer-house league for its inaugural season in 2021. The brothers were selected fourth and fifth overall by the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons respectively. And Victor Wembanyama, a once-in-a-decade prospect, played a brief professional basketball career in France before being selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs. His teammate Bilal Coulibaly was the seventh pick and is currently a member of the Washington Wizards.
It makes sense that the best male basketball players are pursuing alternate routes to get to the NBA. Sure NIL allows for players to make money in college, but the highest-grossing athlete is Bronny James. His father is LeBron James and therefore he had enough pull to be featured in an advertisement for the newest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. No other Men’s College Basketball players are in the top 10, according to On3. Bronny doesn’t play a college basketball game until the fall. (He’ll wear No. 6 like his pops.)
Henderson got a leg up by playing against Wembanyama in a nationally televised game, but the Thompson twins became top-five picks after playing in a literal brand new league for two years. Also, Wembanyama and Coulibaly felt no need to cross the Atlantic to learn basketball in American high schools and universities like Joel Embiid. They earned professional salaries as teenagers, and likely honed their skills against better competition.
For the best of the best men’s basketball players in the world, the 2023 NBA Draft has shown that there is no need to bother with college basketball. The NBA scouts will find them wherever they play, and they will have access to more streams of income and better competition except for the nebulous Overtime Elite.
Of the top-five 2023 boys basketball recruits, two of them will be playing for G-League Ignite this fall. Southern California’s Isaiah Collier is considered to be the top prospect, but his 2023 classmates Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis are technically already professionals. Other players who are projected to be high draft picks include Zaccharie Risacher from France and Aday Mara from Spain.
Just like television, NBA prospects have become decentralized. Big Monday on ESPN and CBS weekends are no longer the best places to find all of the top future NBA talent. Following Men’s College Basketball is still the best way to keep track of most of the players who will one day play in the NBA, but there are fewer future star professionals in those ranks than even in the pre-one-and-done days.
I would still advise almost every high-school basketball player who believes that he has a chance to make the NBA to play college basketball. That is still the best path to take to be discovered, and provides the best safety net if the campus arena is their final basketball destination. However, in the NBA only a handful of players are capable of swinging a team’s championship chances solely by their presence.
Thursday night’s draft made it very clear that a good number of those players will have no impact on sports fans’ brackets come March.