Is NCAA basketball in trouble?
The simple answer is: no.
In recent months the NBA G-League has begun to make a push for college recruits to join the G-League’s NBA pathway program instead of going to college, but it’s not what it seems.
From 2018-20, 12 prospects have decided to forgo college to pursue professional opportunities.
The turn toward professional play over college began to take off when LaMelo Ball decided, at the age of 16, to play overseas in Lithuania. This past season, Ball played in Australia to prepare for the NBA draft and is a projected top-5 pick according to most mock drafts. Fellow 2019 top-5 recruiting prospect RJ Hampton followed Ball oversees and played in New Zealand.
In 2020 the No. 3 overall prospect, Jalen Green, shocked much of the basketball world when he decided to forgo college basketball and go to the pathway program.
Shortly after Green’s decision, the No. 14 prospect in the nation, Isaiah Todd, de-committed from Michigan to join the same program. In another shocking twist, 5-star guard Daishen Nix de-committed from UCLA to pursue the G-League route. Nix’s commitment brings the class to six prospects entering the program.
What is it?
The program offers the players compensation around $500,000 and offers them a year of training before entering the NBA draft. The program also offers the prospects compensation for their college education after their careers if they decide to go back to school.
The prospects will take place in 10-12 exhibition games against international, G-League and NBA academy teams along with training programs to increase the player’s skill levels.
However, the settings of the game are completely different.
In a normal college basketball season teams play about 30 games per season plus postseason tournaments. Players who decide to go the G-League route are passing up on 15-20 extra games. That in-game experience is vital to player development.
The coaching staffs are also built differently. Coaching staffs in college are coveted as elite talent developers. Whereas the coaches in the G-League are more for furthering the talent and fixing what talent is already there.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is known as one of the best coaches of all-time. He has coached the U.S. Olympic team for the last three Olympics with a record of 24-0.
Coaches at the NCAA levels are elite coaches who share one common goal, produce NBA players.
Effects on draft stock
In the latest 2021 NBA mock draft from ESPN, only three of the six players entering the pathway program are projected draft picks in 2021, and only two in the first round. All three are 5-star prospects and ranked inside the top-15. Green is the projected No. 2 pick and Nix is projected at No. 12, whereas Todd is projected in the second round at No. 44.
Of course, if a prospect is a projected top-10 pick before playing a college game their draft stock is already high and likely doesn’t need much help from college games. However, what about the prospects who are close to being NBA ready but need the extra games the NCAA offers?
If they choose to go to the G-League program, they miss out on important time that they can get crucial in-game experience.
Take Tyrese Haliburton, a guard from Iowa State, for example. He was a 3-star prospect in high school with only a handful of Power 5 offers. Now he is a projected top-10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft after two seasons with the Cyclones. Haliburton played in 57 games for the Cyclones, which helped him become one of the best shooters in the draft.
Another example is projected top-5 pick and 2020 Wooden Award winner Obi Toppin, a power forward from Dayton.
Toppin was an unranked recruit out of high school and in just two seasons at Dayton, transformed into the best player in college basketball, leading Dayton to a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Toppin played in 64 games for the Flyers compared to the 15 he would play in the G-League pathway program.
Many ‘experts’ think that the NCAA is in trouble because of the new G-League pathway program and the recent surge in prospects playing overseas, but only a handful of players have the talent and opportunity to take the risk of not playing a rigorous college schedule.
The NCAA has been around since 1896 and it doesn’t show any signs of ending soon.