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Top high school basketball prospect skipping college for G League a problem for NCAA

Jalen Green will spend next season earning money, something he can’t do playing college basketball.

Jalen Green played in high school for Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif.
Jalen Green played in high school for Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

There was a time when the NBA actually wanted to work with the NCAA to facilitate an optimal system in which the best high school players would play in college, and then the NBA.

The one-and-done system was that system, however flawed, for the past 15 years but top high school prospects have gradually circumvented the NCAA by spending time overseas or even in the G-League to burn that one post-high school year before they are eligible to enter the NBA Draft.

Jalen Green, the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the class of 2021, decided to skip college and enter the NBA’s G League program, which will serve as a development branch for high school prospects to prepare for the NBA. Former University of Michigan commit Isaiah Todd is considering joining Green in this program designed as an alternative to college basketball.

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This is damaging to college basketball. NCAA fans would like to see Green and Todd in action, even if it’s just for one season. But NBA prospects aren’t messing around with a semester or two of classes when they can prepare for the league, earn as much as $500,000, and gain endorsement deals.

What this says is the impact of the NCAA, the perception of the NCAA and the allure of the NCAA has been greatly reduced. Many high school prospects no longer dream of playing with good ol’ State U and winning a national championship. College basketball is an option, no longer a rule, and prospects can get a college degree by going to school in the offseason — and having the money to pay for it.

It’s a difficult time for the NCAA. Not only did COVID-19 wipe out the basketball tournaments, one of the most popular events in American sports, but current players no longer look at college basketball as a necessity, because it’s not.

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The NBA and its Players Association seemingly got tired of the NCAA looking out for itself first when it comes to developing a plan for basketball players to enter the NBA Draft. NCAA coaches, except maybe John Calipari of Kentucky, are not satisfied with the one-and-done concept. It’s done little to encourage players who did not have banner freshman seasons to stay in school, as originally believed.

The NCAA needs to realize that: 1. some of these prospects are just not into school; and 2. they are especially uninterested if they aren’t going to be compensated. Green, who is from Fresno, Calif., has a chance to train for the NBA, earn as much as $500,000, and get endorsement deals.

While training for a year in the G League doesn’t bring the prestige of playing for Kansas or Duke, Green will earn a steady paycheck and learn how to become a professional, on and off the floor.

So the question is whether high school prospects can actually turn into NBA starts via the G League. I’m not a big fan of the G League because there have been numerous players dominate that league but struggle when they get back to their respective clubs.

Ask Celtics forward Jayson Tatum how valuable that one year at Duke was with coach Mike Krzyzewski or Anthony Davis how much tutelage he received playing one year for Calipari.

So far there are two examples of current NBA players who decided to skip school and play overseas or just train during that one-year gap: Darius Bazley of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Anfernee Simons of the Portland Trail Blazers.

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Bazley, who left a Syracuse commitment and decided to train on his own while taking a paid internship with New Balance, is averaging 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds as a rookie. Simons spent a post-graduate year at IMG Academy and decided to bypass college and enter the draft, where he was the 24th overall pick in 2018.

After playing just 20 games as a rookie, Simons earned a reserve role and is averaging 8.8 points per game.

Bazley and Simons could turn out to be All-Stars, but both now are just inexperienced players trying to earn minutes and gain more prominent roles. It remains to be seen whether skipping college actually was beneficial.

This new NBA training program might serve as a more attractive option because of the ability to earn money during the gap year. Prospects are going to have to ask themselves and their families, is earning a paycheck and training in a NBA-type system worth it in the long run? Or will I just be another moderately talented youngster trying to make it in the grown man’s league?

There isn’t a clear-cut answer. The best NBA rookies this season all went to college and Bazley isn’t on that list. There is value to playing college basketball, it just isn’t what it once was and the NCAA has to do something to appease these prospects who want to be compensated during their tenure.

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The NCAA needs to devise a system that will attract prospects and ensure that not just the schools and NCAA are making money off the players’ success. These younger players are more hip to the perils of the NCAA and the NCAA continues to believe we are still living in the past generation where it was enough to represent good ol’ State U. just for the scholarship.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.