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NBA’s G League salary offer is market competition for college basketball

Everything John Calipari had to say at SEC Media Days

University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari spoke on a wide range of topics during SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday.
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University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari spoke on a wide range of topics during SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday.

The NBA finally unveiled its “pro path” plan to combat college basketball’s one-and-done, announcing Thursday that starting in 2019 it will offer a select number of elite prospects $125,000 for a five-month contract to play in the G League.

Players at least 18 years of age and not yet 19 would play in the NBA’s developmental or minor league before becoming eligible for the NBA and G League drafts. They would also receive financial literacy training and practical business education.

Reaction has been mixed, with most experts saying they don’t anticipate many high-level prospects skipping college basketball entirely to enter the G League.

“Asked a NBA agent if he would ever advise a prospect to skip college for the G league. Response: ‘Never,’” tweeted recruiting analyst Evan Daniels.

“I have doubts how many top players will go this route,” tweeted ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “Some, yes. But G League is full of early connecting flights, long bus rides, small gyms. It isn’t glamorous. Big-time NCAA ball still has the trappings of exposure, packed house, private jets. You’ll get paid there too.”

Indeed, going by the testimony at the college basketball corruption trial, plenty of top prospects are already being paid by shoe companies, agents, and (yes) even colleges. And despite the protests of Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, the stories we heard in New York are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Others, however, believe the G League option will be attractive to those players who don’t want to go to college in the first place.

“It will affect college basketball for sure, because the one-and-dones that don’t go to the NBA will go there for the $125,000,” said new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway on Thursday. “Most kids don’t want to be in school for four years, especially the kids that have the ability to go the next level. I don’t know if it will affect my recruiting because you’re going to get them into schools. It’s just the one-and-done kids. It’s definitely going to affect college basketball.”

Former coach and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla also thinks some will opt for the G League over college, and worries about the NCAA’s new proposals for changing summer basketball.

“NCAA is about to upend the entire summer basketball recruiting circuit for 40 stars, many of whom will pass on college to go G-League route or NBA when the one-and-done rule amended,” Fraschilla tweeted Thursday. “There are 300+ D-1 coaches pulling their hair out right now.”

And Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann points out that players who opt for the G League will be free to accept outside income from endorsement deals, etc. That’s not allowed by the NCAA.

Without these and other restrictions that link eligibility to compliance with amateurism, a G League player can sign with an agent and negotiate endorsement deals with shoe companies, car dealerships and other third-parties,” McCann wrote.

“Further, he could decide to pursue college part-time while enjoying a pro basketball career or pursue college full-time after his basketball career ends. In either case, he would not be able to play on the college’s basketball team. But might have considerable earnings in hand and could focus on academics.”

So how does Kentucky Coach John Calipari feel about all this? After all, Calipari is recognized as the king of one-and-dones, heavily recruiting players intent on going to the NBA after one year of college. Of Calipari’s 26 first-round draft picks at UK, 23 were one-and-dones.

The coach came out against the G League proposal even before it was announced, saying at SEC Basketball Media Days in Birmingham on Wednesday he could read the tea leaves.

“So when all these kids go to the G League and 93 percent, my guess, tea leaves, don’t make it, what do we do with them?” Calipari asked. “They’re road kill. They’re kicked to the side. What do we do with all those kids?”

That’s a legitimate point. As it stands now, however, with just a few exceptions, every prospect’s only option is to play college basketball, if only for a year, whether he wants to or not. Starting with the summer of 2019, those players will have another viable option, one that comes with a $125,000 salary.

As Michael McCann put it: “The NCAA now faces the return of a different kind of challenge to amateurism: market competition by the NBA for the very best 18-year-old basketball players.”

An additional note: According to Wojnarowski, the NBA has informed teams there will be no changes allowing high school players to enter the NBA Draft before 2022.



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