Last month when ALL-USA First Team selection R.J. Hampton announced that he was reclassifying from 2020 to 2019, he made it a point to say that his goal was never to be a McDonald’s All American, an honor he’d relinquish by graduating from Little Elm (Texas) High School a year ahead of schedule.
On Tuesday, Hampton added college All-American to the “not interested” list, announcing his decision to play professionally in New Zealand rather than pick any of the schools in his final three: Memphis, Kansas and Texas Tech.
“I know that shocks everybody,” Hampton told USA TODAY Sports. “But this is what’s best for me. I want to be a pro; I’ve always wanted to be a pro. I want to play in the NBA and I want to play professionally to prepare for that.”
Hampton, who checked in at No. 2 overall in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25 for 2020 before reclassifying, isn’t the first elite high school player to take the overseas route rather than potentially pursue an appearance in the famed “One Shining Moment” video come April.
In 2008, Brandon Jennings became the first high school player to take the prep to overseas route when he opted out of his letter-of-intent to Arizona to play in Italy. In 2014, Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play in China over playing at SMU; in 2016, Terrance Ferguson chose playing in Australia over Arizona, and in 2017, LaVar Ball pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills (California) High School and sent him to play in Lithuania.
“It’s worked out for guys in the past,” Hampton said. “I really took my time and researched everything, and this was what I decided to do. I feel like it’s a great situation for me to grow in a lot of different ways.”
ALL-USA: Meet the First Team selections
Hampton would’ve been eligible for the new NBA G League venture, which would pay him $125,000 next season while he awaits the 2020 NBA Draft where he’s a projected lottery pick. High school players must be one year removed from high school in order to become draft eligible under the current rules.
A source with knowledge of the situation told USA Today Sports that Hampton’s contract in New Zealand is “well beyond the G League’s $125,000 salary” and he has “multiple offers from shoe companies,” one of which will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Hampton will report to New Zealand in August with his entire family.
Hampton was one of 30 players invited to tryout for the FIBA U19 World Cup team next month; no word yet on whether he’ll attend.
“It’s not the normal route for sure,” Hampton said of his decision. “But I’ve always been the type to take my own path. I feel like this better prepares me for the NBA from a business and basketball standpoint. Everyone thinks the norm is going to college, but the younger kids should know that this is an option too. I wanted to challenge myself as early as possible.”
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