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A Top-10 Recruit’s Decision to Join the G League Could Have Major Implications for the NCAA

Darius Bazley is decommitting from Syracuse to join the professional ranks as an 18-year-old

High School Basketball: McDonalds High School All American Games Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Projected 2019 NBA lottery pick Darius Bazley announced his intention to decommit from Syracuse and sign with the G League on Thursday, becoming the first high-profile prospect to spurn the college game to sign a domestic professional contract, Yahoo Sports reported. Bazley is expected to sign a contract with the league in September (he’s currently not eligible, because he doesn’t turn 18 until June), and can enter its draft in October.

The five-star prospect and 247Sports’ no. 8 recruit nationally originally committed to join the Orange over the summer, and would have been Jim Boeheim’s highest-ranked signing since Donte Greene in 2007. At 6-foot-9, Bazley would have given Syracuse a versatile option on the wing, and projects as a 3-and-D forward at the next level. It’s not the recruit’s first decommitment: He’d previously pledged himself to Ohio State before backing out last April. Even then, the forward had his eyes on the future, telling The Columbus Dispatch that he thought there were other schools that could put him “on a bigger stage” to show NBA scouts what he was capable of.

Since the NBA D-League officially rebranded as the G League last summer in partnership with Gatorade, the NBA’s second division has positioned itself as an alternative to the typical prep-to-pro route based on a simple question: Why should a player play for minimal compensation (a college scholarship and, depending on the school, possibly a small stipend) against lesser talents in middling college basketball conferences when he can test himself against professionals? (Currently, 38 percent of NBA players spent at least some time in the developmental league.) Still, last summer, as debates over the future of the one-and-done rule dragged on, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that he still believed the NCAA was the best path for future professionals.

“Right now, you can go into the Gatorade League at 18,” Silver said. “We don’t promote that, we’re not trying to compete against college, and we still think right now going to these great college programs is the better path into the NBA.”

A little over a decade ago, Bazley’s decision between the NCAA and the G League wouldn’t have been necessary. Until 2006, players were eligible to declare for the NBA draft immediately after completing high school. Since then, athletes have been able to enter the league only if they turned 19 during the year of the draft and were at least one year removed from their high school graduating class. And while the G League has been an option for players for years, its viability as a path to the professional ranks has gone untested.

“It’s not heard of leaving school to go to the G League and going to the NBA,” Bazley’s mother, Lynnita, told Yahoo Sports. “This is history in the making, and this could open up the doors for so many people behind him.”

If Bazley’s gamble pays off and he is selected toward the top of the 2019 NBA draft, he could serve as a trailblazer for the future of the sport. The cracks in the NCAA’s near monopoly over the pipeline of NBA talent have been showing for years now: While Bazley is the first big-name recruit to pick the G League over the NCAA, there is precedent for top prospects to sign contracts overseas. In 2008, Brandon Jennings made waves when he signed with Lottomatica Roma rather than playing at the University of Arizona, and was later drafted 10th overall in the 2009 draft. In 2014, Emmanuel Mudiay signed a $1.2 million contract with the Guangdong Tigers instead of joining SMU, and wound up being taken no. 7 overall in 2015; just last year, Terrance Ferguson was drafted 21st overall after forgoing his college career for a season with the Adelaide 36ers. Bazley is the first to spurn the NCAA and remain on American soil to play with a G League team, but that process could be complicated.

Any G League team that drafts him won’t own his rights until he becomes eligible for the NBA draft, and once he turns 19 and declares, the team will lose all ownership rights to him. Because he can’t be called up to the next level, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of immediate, professional-level contributor that his peers will be, there may be little incentive for his future G League team to help him develop and give him minutes over players they have under long-term contract.

The G League also can’t match the salary that Jennings, Mudiay, and Ferguson earned overseas, but can offer Bazley the ability to train with NBA-caliber athletes without having to adjust to a new country. Salaries in the American minor league range from $75,000 to $275,000 per year, but that’s still plenty more than what is offered by the NCAA.

“The G League will have the most to offer, considering that is the development league for the NBA,” Bazley told Yahoo Sports. “I will get more out of that than going overseas. The G League is the closest thing to the NBA.”