In an intriguing and potentially game-changing story emerging from the US overnight, RJ Hampton – one of the highest-rated high school basketballers in this year’s class – has announced the bombshell decision to pass on scholarship offers from several top American colleges in order to play professional basketball here in Australia in the NBL.
Hampton is ranked at number five overall in this year’s ESPN 100 ranking of America’s top high school basketball prospects, with the 6’5″ 18-year-old the second highest-rated point guard in this year’s class. He is a consensus five-star prospect, making him one of the most sought-after talents in this year’s college recruiting pool.
But despite Memphis, Kansas, and Texas Tech all circling Hampton, and reported scholarship offers also being extended by college basketball powerhouses Duke and Kentucky, Hampton has instead opted to forgo college basketball altogether in order to sign with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL.
Hampton appeared on ESPN’s Get Up program to announce his unusual and reasonably unprecedented decision, citing an ultimate desire to play in the NBA as the reason behind wanting to skip college and go pro immediately.
I just think, my dream has never been to play college basketball. My dream has always been to get to the next level and play in the NBA. So, I think this was the best route for me, to live like a pro, and to play with grown men, and not have to juggle books and basketball, and just focus on my main goal.
Hampton is able to sign with the NBL under the league’s burgeoning Next Stars initiative, which allows young US prospects to skip college and play professional basketball for a season before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft.
Hampton is the second college prospect to enlist in the initiative, following Brian Bowen II who played one season for the Sydney Kings last year before declaring for this year’s upcoming NBA Draft.
There is some speculation that Hampton won’t be alone in the NBL this coming season; LaMelo Ball, the youngest son of LaVar Ball, is reportedly strongly considering playing professional ball in either Australia or China rather than take on the US college system.
Very early projections place RJ Hampton as the number six overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, though obviously that could change dramatically over the course of the next twelve months.
A big day for Australian/New Zealand basketball.