Last week when Little Elm (Texas) High School point guard R.J. Hampton surprised the country and chose a professional career in New Zealand over college the question became: Will Hampton’s move start a trend with the country’s top players?
“Everyone thinks that going to college is the norm,” Hampton said in his exclusive video to USA Today Sports. “But for younger guys that don’t know, this is an option out here. Elite players you can have this option.”
The consensus among elite high school players is that, yes, Hampton’s move will start a trend, but the trend is less action and more dialogue.
“It kinda forces you to talk about it now,” said McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia) point guard Sharife Cooper, the No. 1 overall in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25 for 2020. “For most of us this was the first time a move like this was real. We’d heard that players had done it a couple times before, but we all know R.J. That made it more real.”
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.
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In 2009, Jeremy Tyler skipped his senior year of high school and turned pro in Israel; 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 his junior year and sent him to play in Lithuania.
“I feel like I still lean toward college,” said Cooper, the reigning ALL-USA Player of the Year. “But I’ll definitely be watching to see how it’s working for R.J. over there.”
Nearly two months before revealing his decision, Hampton averaged 28.1 points a game in the Nike EYBL, which is widely regarded as the toughest shoe circuit league of the spring/summer. Hampton, who was ranked No. 2 overall in the Chosen 25, said that after that performance he was “even more convinced” that he wanted to make the professional leap.
Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) shooting guard Cam Thomas has been even more dominant this season in the Nike EYBL, leading the league in scoring at 29.5 points.
Still, his success this spring hasn’t made him contemplate that jump.
“I think that’s great for R.J.,” said Thomas, ranked No. 14 in the Chosen 25 for 2020. “But, for me, I’ve always wanted to experience March Madness and Selection Sunday and all that stuff. I want to play on a big stage and hopefully help my team get to a Final Four. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Callaway High School (Jackson, Mississippi) point guard Daeshun Ruffin, a rising junior, is having similar success in the Nike EYBL this spring, pumping in 25.8 points a game, including a league-high 51-point outing on March 28. He said that with the NBA’s one-and-done rule likely on its way out he “can’t see a lot of people doing what R.J. did.”
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In February, the league sent a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association to lower the minimum age for entering the NBA draft from 19 to 18. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that he thinks the new rules will be in place in time for the 2022 NBA draft.
“I’m going to college, that’s always been a goal of mine,” said Ruffin, who recently committed to Auburn. “But, I will say this, overseas is something I would think about. I don’t think I’d do it, but I’d think about it and that’s something I wouldn’t have said a couple of weeks ago.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY