Darius Bazley, a McDonald’s All-American and national top 10 recruit, decided to forgo his commitment to Syracuse on Thursday afternoon and will instead enter the NBA G-League draft. Bazley, a long and springy player, will follow in the steps of Latavious Williams. Williams was a top 20 recruit in the class of 2010 and after being academically ineligible for college, entered the then NBA D-League.
He was taken no. 16 overall in the D-League draft by the Tulsa 66ers, spent two years with the club, and has played in leagues overseas (which he declined to do coming out of high school for exposure purposes). While the Miami Heat made him a second round selection, he has never played in the NBA.
Turning down the NCAA is no longer new. Brandon Jennings, one the premier recruits in 2009, chose to play in Italy for a year before becoming draft eligible. He clashed with the coaches, played somewhat sparingly and had mediocre numbers, but was still a first round draft choice who has carved out an NBA career.
Jeremy Tyler, an elite forward recruit, made a similar move. He skipped out on Louisville to play for the Tokyo Apache in Japan, after his relationship with his first international club, Maccabi Haifa, didn’t work out. He became the 39th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but has only played in 80 career NBA games and none since 2013.
More recently, Emmanuel Mudiay played in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2014-15 for $1.2 million, but only 10 games due to injury. Thon Maker used a postgraduate year at an athletic prep school in Canada to become the No. 10 pick of the Milawaukee Bucks. Terrance Ferguson struck a deal to play (barely) for Adelaide in the Australian league and became a first choice of the Thunder. This year Mitchell Robinson, once committed to Western Kentucky, is not playing anywhere, deciding to focus on skill development as he awaits his draft eligibility to kick in and projects as a late first round pick. Anfernee Simons, an athletic and dynamic scoring guard, is taking a postgrad year similar to Maker but at IMG Academy in Florida. He too will likely be a first rounder. Now Bazley is doing his thing for 2019.
Age reform has once again become a hot button issue for the NBA. Many argue they should allow 18-year-olds to enter the draft out of high school again. However, some personnel evaluators like the wait- it weeds out the frauds and gives more clarity on a prospect while allowing someone else to take care of their development and save pro-clubs a roster spot. Still, change seems imminent.
None of the aforementioned players have had glorious careers. It is quite early for Mudiay, Maker and Ferguson but all have had their struggles. Bazley, who will play for, at best $35,000, in the NBA’s minor league, will try to buck the trend and become a standout. He may become a trendsetter, although that has been said before. The problem with Bazley is the G-League as a construct. He is still young, and the G-League is a grown man’s league. People will look out for him somewhat, but there is going to be a lot of responsibility on him.
The key to his whole season will be development and exposure. Will he get either? The G-League is full of teams trying to win, players trying to get noticed and coaches and executives trying to save their jobs. Everybody is trying to get to the next level. There is no incentive for a team to develop Bazley for a year to lose him for nothing the following summer. There is no reason a coach will play him if he is still raw and it means losing games. Even teammates won’t necessarily have his back; it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Of course, a lot of the same could be said about the high stakes of Division I Men’s Basketball, but there’s a lot more security, patience and time in that realm.
Bazley’s move, apparently being considered by other top prospects less than enamored with school and amateurism in the NCAA, could be meaningless if the NBA or NCAA implement major reform. Similarly, if he flourishes or flops, the outcome bias of it all could strongly influence fellow players to come. Williams was not a success, so despite the route being available, it has not been followed until now. The prep school route, the overseas route (see Australia’s new incentive structure), or the sit and develop route were probably all on the table, but Bazley is putting his faith in the NBA. Hopefully if it works out, the NBA will put their faith in him in the 2019 NBA draft.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.