Let’s all take a deep breath.
Because despite what you think, Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd’s decision to become the latest top-basketball prospects to pass on college basketball doesn’t mean that the sport is headed towards a cataclysmic shift.
In case you forgot, college basketball has survived a global pandemic that canceled the NCAA tournament and an FBI investigation all in the last few years, and it’s still standing. I mean, Will Wade (LSU) and Sean Miller (Arizona) are still head coaches after a recent documentary released audio of them discussing how they paid players.
So excuse me for being cynical about the possibility of an 18-year-old’s decision crumbling the sport.
On Thursday morning, ESPN’s NBA Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony broke the news that Green, ESPN’s No. 1 prospect in the class of 2020, had started to tell coaches that he was planning to enter the NBA’s G League before he officially announced it later that day.
“I wanted to get better overall and prepare myself for the NBA because that’s my ultimate goal,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “Everything was planned out right and set up for me to succeed. I think this was a good decision at the end of the day. I’m still going to be able to go back to college and finish school. So, it’s not really that I’m missing out on college because I can go back and finish whenever I need to. School is a big thing in my family.”
Instead of choosing between Memphis and Auburn, Green will take part in the league’s professional pathway program that was launched in October of 2018 and will pay him over $500,000 according to the latest Woj bomb. 👇
Later in the day, The Athletic’s Shams Charania broke the news that Todd, a five-star recruit and former Michigan commit, was going to join Green on the same team in the G League.
But here’s the part that people forget:
The duo will be the first players to take this route because other top-prospects have repeatedly turned down the league/program. A 2019 report from OZY quoted an NBA agent that mentioned how the program wouldn’t allow players such as Green and Todd to get called up by an NBA team. In that same report, a G League spokesperson confirmed that the league had between three to five $125,000 contracts available for top-prospects for the 2019–20 season, but yet there were no takers.
Because the G League “ain’t what you want.” Riding on charter buses and flying commercial, while staying in three-star hotels in places you’ve never heard of isn’t fun.
In 2015, I spent time covering the then Delaware 87ers. As soon as I walked into the arena one night, I saw Hasheem Thabeet amid his pregame warm-up. The former No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 NBA Draft was playing in an empty college arena that holds 5,100.
During that time I also discovered that members of the Philadelphia 76ers’ G League affiliate used a local Boys & Girls Club as their “workout gym.”
It’s that bad in the G League.
But the story that trumps them all was the night I witnessed the end of Nolan Smith’s career. The former Duke star and ACC Player of the Year was a first-round draft pick in 2011. And after playing overseas, he was back in the G League trying to return to the NBA. Smith tore his ACL that night, ultimately ending his playing career. His teammate, Tiny Gallon, picked him up and carried him to the locker room.
This is what the careers of two former can’t miss high school prospects had come to. The G League is not for kids or the faint of heart. It’s for grown men that are giving it their all to achieve their dreams. There is no hand-holding or fanfare, just unrelenting drive by outstanding basketball players.
Spend some time checking out this list of players in the G League, and marvel at all the recognizable names. Everybody is really good, and almost all of them were top prospects at one time.
In the past few years, guys such as Mitchell Robinson, Anfernee Simons, Darius Bazley, Jalen Lecque, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, and RJ Hampton have all flipped off the NCAA and skipped out on college basketball.
Good for them. College isn’t for everybody, and the NBA’s one-and-done rule has always been stupid. It’s forced teams to become younger and draft players based solely on potential, which is always risky. Because of the rule, we’ve seen countless NBA general managers pass over polished college sophomores, juniors, and seniors to opt for the flashy freshman that aren’t around in three seasons.
Josh Hart was the 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft as a senior and is playing well in the league. Josh Jackson was the fourth overall pick in that same draft as a freshman, and spent last season playing for the Memphis Hustle, in the G League, of all places.
Trust me, college basketball and the NCAA aren’t losing sleep over Green and Todd giving the G League’s program a shot, because they have a product that no other sport can compete with, which is that they own an entire month with March Madness.
Think about it.
Does Steph Curry get drafted if Davidson doesn’t make the tournament in 2008, leading to a magical run that introduced him to the world?
In 2012, if CJ McCollum doesn’t drop 30 on Duke in an epic No. 15 over a No. 2 upset does he become a lottery pick?
Six years later, Donte DiVincenzo comes off the bench to score 31 points in the national championship game and is named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Does he get selected 17th overall that year in the draft without that performance?
And is Zion Williamson the No. 1 pick in 2019 if ESPN, CBS, and Duke didn’t constantly put him on a pedestal? Because people tend to forget that he wasn’t even ranked the best player in his class due to concerns about the level of competition he faced in high school.
The NCAA tournament is a platform that has changed the lives and careers of players for decades, and that’s something the G League and playing overseas simply can’t do. The Maine Red Claws can never produce a Final Four-like atmosphere, in the same way a European team will never see its name on a bracket challenge.
And then, there’s also the money angle. According to Yahoo Finance, in 2016-17 almost 75 percent of the record-breaking $1 billion the NCAA made that year came from the tournament. Now, it’s estimated that the tournament alone brings in $933 million. The NCAA is not going to let the event that pays all of their bills fall by the wayside.
What will happen is that we may see more top-level prospects find ways to skip out on college. But all that will do is give even more opportunities to players that actually want to play ball on a campus.
I hope kids such as Green and Todd turn out to be as good as they have ever dreamed. But they are a part of the chosen few, while college basketball has always, and will always, cater to the many.
A game that’s been around since 1893 isn’t going to fold due to two teenagers deciding that they’d rather play basketball in places like Erie, Pennsylvania and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.