When Princeton (Cincinnati) forward Darius Bazley, who is ranked No. 9 overall in the ESPN 100, announced March 29 that he would enter the G-League instead of suiting up at Syracuse next season, the consensus among elite underclassmen was, well, “Huh?”
“I didn’t even know you could do that,” said Little Elm (Texas) point guard R.J. Hampton, who is ranked No. 2 overall in the ESPN 25 for 2020. “I had no idea.”
The G-League has always been an option as long as a player is 18, but the prospect of Bazley’s decision starting a domino effect of elite players joining the NBA’s developmental league has underclassmen torn.
“It’s hard to say,” said Mountain Brook (Ala.) forward Trendon Watford, who is ranked No. 9 overall in the ESPN 60 for 2019. “It could work out for him, but it’s not gonna be a good option for other guys. One thing it does is give us another thing to think about.”
Hampton said he not only thinks others will follow Bazley’s path, it will force the NBA to eventually change its rule back to allowing high school players to enter the NBA Draft.
In 2006, the league implemented its “one-and-done” rule, which says a player has to be a year removed from high school.
“Darius is changing the culture for high school guys,” Hampton said. “I think it will start a trend. It’s something I’ll at least think about when the time comes. Some people want to get to the NBA in different ways.”
Bazley’s now former future coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was adamant that the high school to G-League route shouldn’t be in that different category.
“I wish him well,” Boeheim told ESPN last week of Bazley. “I hope he does great. But I don’t think it’s the way it will be. I think it will be proven it’s not the way to get to the NBA. The last 48 McDonald’s All-Americans, 47 of them went to college. Of the next 48, 48 will go to college. It’s the best route.”
Armando Bacot said despite the fact that there could be “a lot of rewards” tied to the G-League route, in the end, the potential for failure will be too great for Bazley’s move to catch on with elite underclassmen.
“There’s a lot of risk with that move,” said Bacot, a forward at Trinity Episcopal (Richmond, Va.) who is ranked No. 20 overall in the ESPN 60.
Watford has an even more informed perspective; he watched his older brother Christian Watford play for multiple G-League teams after starring at Indiana from 2009-2013.
Trendon said anyone who suits up in the G-League will have to bring a level of intensity that they’ve never experienced.
“This is real life for these guys in the G-League,” Trendon said. “These guys have been to college already and this is it for them. That’s a different mentality than a high school guy has. That’s a big adjustment. For me, I don’t think that’s the route I would want to take.”
Newton (Covington, Ga.) point guard Ashton Hagans shared those sentiments, but was quick to point out that more high school players will follow Bazley’s footsteps if he’s successful next season.
“If he’s out there doing his thing you’re gonna see more players go that route,” said Hagans, a Kentucky commit who is ranked No. 18 overall in the ESPN 60. “Then it will be more real to them because they’ll think they can do it too.”
For that reason, Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.) wing Joey Baker said he’s got plans to do something as unprecedented as Bazley’s jump to the G-League.
“I’m gonna watch some G-League games,” said Baker, a Duke commit who is ranked No. 15 overall in the ESPN 60. “I’ve never actually seen one, but I want to keep up with how he does through the box scores or something. It’s not the move for me, but I’ll be watching. I think we all will.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY