NBA G-League stepping on toes in Durham

The collective groan heard rumbling through southern Virginia last Thursday afternoon initiated in the Research Triangle Park, particularly Duke University.

The groan was compliments of the NBA-G League that announced Thursday that beginning with next basketball season the league will offer contracts to a select group of high school seniors to enter the NBA G-League and receive a contract of $125,000.

The decision by the NBA addresses two problems that have surfaced recently that affects all student athletes, but more focused on college basketball players. For one, the NBA has come under scrutiny for not allowing players the opportunity to enter the NBA draft immediately after high school.

Secondly, several universities have been named in a recent FBI investigation linking Adidas to the illegal recruitment of players to colleges. University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was fired from his position in 2017 after recorded conversations between Pitino and an adidas representative discussing payments to a player surfaced.

While the details are yet to be worked out, what the news means is players identified within the “select” group will have the option of spending a year in the G-League for substantially more money (the previous top contract was $75,000) than offered before.

The selected players will not be contractually committed to any team and will be available for the NBA draft the following June. The only age restriction requires players to be 18 before September 15 after their high school graduation.

NBA G-League President Malcolm Turner said the league will put together a working group to identify the players. “We recognize that talent assessment is inherently subjective,” Turner said. “But as the name would suggest, this working group will be charged with identifying the relevant pool of select players who may be offered a select contract. It’s not as if any player can unilaterally raise their hand and dictate that they will join the league playing under a select contract.”

Turner added there will be no cap on the number of players who may be assigned the select status.

If you follow college basketball in this area, it’s no secret that since 2010, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has done a masterful job adhering to the current NBA rules that require players to be one year removed from high school before they are eligible for the NBA draft. After winning the national championship in 2010 with a group of upperclassmen, Krzyzewski brought in the first of his “one and done” players in Kyrie Irving.

Though Irving was limited to 11 games that season due to injury, for the games in which he played, Irving averaged 17.5 points per game, second highest on the team. Despite his limited play, Irving left Duke after the season and headed for the NBA. Irving started a trend in recruiting that has allowed the Blue Devils to be considered one of the top teams in the country every year.

In 2011, freshman Austin Rivers led Duke in scoring, but like Irving, it was his only year in Durham. By the next season, he was in the NBA. Since then, Krzyzewski has consistently had one of the top recruiting classes in the country and the revolving door of freshmen phenoms has picked up speed.

Jabari Parker in 2013, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones in 2014, and Brandon Ingram in 2015 all joined the one and done club. In 2016, the names of Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Harry Giles were added to the list. Marvin Bagley headed up the 2017 class, which included Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., and Trevon Duval.

The 2018 freshman class has the Blue Devils ranked fourth in the pre-season poll, but one of the top freshmen, Zion Williamson, has had his name surface in the FBI investigation.Williamson, a South Carolina native, was highly sought by schools all across the country. His name has come up in connection with illegal payments that Kansas University was willing to offer in order to bring Williamson to Lawrence.

In a taped conversation between Adidas representative Merl Code and Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, Code is recorded speaking of Williamson and the illegal exchange that must take place for Williamson to sign with Kansas.

Code: “Hey, but between me and you, he asked about some stuff ... I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”

Townsend responds: ‘so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.’”

Eventually Williamson chose Duke, but will the allegations affect his playing status this season?

Only time will tell whether Williamson will last throughout the season, but larger questions loom in Durham.

What impact will the “select group” have on recruiting at Duke? When high school seniors are allowed to declare for the NBA draft (probably in 2022), how will Duke transition to recruiting less talented players? And finally, will these changes lead to the retirement of the legendary Krzyzewski?

Stay tuned and buckle those seat belts. It is going to be a bumpy ride.

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