Just Google the name Jalen Green, and you’ll surely be shown a story hinting at NCAA hoops’ inevitable decline.
I respect these opinions. Perhaps they’re correct. But I don’t know — I think the college game is going to be just fine.
Green made news earlier in the week when he announced that he is going to bypass the NCAA and sign with the G League, a development league for the NBA. A projected top-three pick in 2021, Green reportedly signed a contract in the range of $500,000.
The NBA also will pay Green’s tuition should he decide to go back to school, meaning he isn’t forfeiting his education by leaving.
Seem like a good deal? Well, it’s certainly a safe one.
Green is now guaranteed a half-million dollars and the option of a free education regardless of what happens next. He can blow out both knees, perform valleys below his hype, or decide that all he really wants to do in life is dance.
Perhaps that is why Isaiah Todd, whom ESPN lists as the No. 13 recruit in the country, announced he would go the same route as Green, albeit for about half the money.
The NBA doesn’t allow players to be drafted straight out of high school, but is now giving them a paid alternative to playing NCAA ball. So what does this mean for the college game? Well, that’s to be determined.
The argument is that the allure of six figures will drive most of the top prospects into the G League, where they can spend the next year focusing on nothing but basketball. No classes. No eligibility concerns. And no need to leave the country, as players such as Brandon Jennings and LaMelo Ball did in lieu of spending a year in school.
So why would any high-profile baller choose the NCAA route now?
Well, there’s a few reasons.
One is Zion Williamson. Remember, the Pelicans forward wasn’t the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school two years ago. In fact, he was ranked behind two of his Duke teammates, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.
But after dazzling the nation with his peerless play, he skyrocketed to the top of the draft board and signed a $75 million shoe deal with Nike. There’s little chance he would have gotten anywhere close to that kind of endorsement cash if he played in the G League or overseas. Younger players have to be aware of that.
Another reason is the chance to play in the NCAA tournament. There really isn’t a pro equivalent to that. The brackets, single-game elimination, the way the country stops for three weeks. Former Huskies forward Quincy Pondexter spent seven seasons in the NBA, but says his senior year at Washington — when the Dawgs went to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed – was the best year of his life.
Another is that the top prospects usually have insurance to guard against injury.
Williamson, for instance, reportedly had a policy that would have paid him $8 million if he slid past the 16th pick in the draft. As the No. 1 pick, he is guaranteed more than $25 million for his first three years. So while a few hundred thousand dollars is a nice way to instantly boost one’s bank account, the elite players will generally see a payout regardless of where they end up in the draft.
Despite all this, I’m not sure losing some of the top players to the G League each year would be a major threat to the college game. It isn’t as star-driven as the NBA. Year-round fans of NCAA hoops enjoy the style of play. Fans of specific schools will fill the arenas so long as the team is competitive. And come March, the country becomes fixated on the tournament regardless of the individuals participating in it.
From 1995-2005, 39 players went straight from high school to the NBA. That list includes Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard. And though it would have been fun to see what those guys could have done at that level, the ratings for the Final Four were typically higher during that stretch than they were in the ensuing 10 years.
The NBA deserves credit for giving athletes this option. Surely more players will follow the lead of Green and Todd.
But not only will the college game survive this, it will continue to thrive.