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NBA G League offers contracts to “elite” high school athletes

One-and-done? Not anymore.

The NBA G League, beginning the 2019-2020 basketball season, will offer select $125,000 contracts to elite high school prospects.

Oklahoma Christian University’s head men’s basketball coach Cory Cole said this decision marks a smart move by the NBA in reopening the door to welcoming 18-year-olds into the league.

“I think it’s a good idea, because there are a lot of guys who aren’t ready for college,” Cole said. “I think the G League—they’re striking while it’s hot. It’s the time. This should have happened 10 years ago.”

The NBA banned high school draftees in 2005, making Dwight Howard in 2004 the last number-one pick in the NBA Draft.

The exclusion of high school draftees resulted in a continual progression of elite basketball players becoming “one-and-done” athletes, playing one year of collegiate Division 1 basketball before declaring for the draft.

According to Cole, the one-and-done athlete represents little more than a way to finesse the system and get to the NBA.

“The one-and-done is just a good marketing phrase,” Cole said. “It’s really a semester and done because once the semester starts, those guys don’t have to go to class. You pass your nine hours, you enroll for your 12 credits for the spring and never attend. They’re really just finagling around the system. Coaches know it, but you have to let those elite guys do it or they’re not coming to your spot.”

As a result, the new G League contracts will eliminate some dangers of the one-and-done athlete, but Sports Management professor Wes McKinzie said the new contracts will not solve the ultimate problem.

“I think it will be helpful to a degree,” McKinzie said. “You’re obviously not going to get the high-profile 18-year-olds. They’ll go to your Duke’s and Villanova’s and Kentucky’s, then go onto the NBA.”

Along with a substantial amount of money, the G League contracts will also offer a “professional path program,”which will include year-long professional development opportunities, in hopes to compensate for the lack of a college education.

McKinzie said the program has potential to provide young men with valuable skills needed in their lives off the court.

“I think if it’s done with a good deal of intentionality, it could really be helpful,” McKinzie said. “Having those programs in place as something to prepare guys for life after basketball could be really good. Will players commit to those programs or will those players just a stepping stone to something else? It’s yet to be seen how that will go.”

Along with intentionality, Cole said the league needs to be proactive in offering relevant courses, which will assist players in managing their wealth to be productive members of society.

“Time management classes, financial classes and investing,” Cole said. “Give them some resources, some mentors of former players but also business leaders so it’s not just their inner circle, their homeboys they grew up with. It’s really giving them that college experience but in a business sense. Here’s how to promote yourself as your own entity, your own brand. Your shelf life is only three to four years max. Make as much money as you can and save it, invest it, so the next 20 years you still have some money.”

For the Oklahoma City Blue, the local G League, attendance may rise as elite 18-year-olds become a part of the roster as soon as next season.

McKinzie said it will be interesting to see if these young players will draw in more attendance at minor league games, but he believes ticket sales will only increase if big name high school prospects sign the new contracts.

“For example, even though Zion Williamson is huge, how many in the mainstream really know who he is?” McKinzie said. “Especially with minor league sports, for the most part, they draw on families and other folks who are just looking for entertainment. I think it could be helpful.”

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