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LaVar Ball to start pro league for NBA hopefuls who don’t want to attend college

LaVar Ball has two sons set to play professionally in Lithuania, while his oldest plays for the Lakers after one season at UCLA. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Saying that he has found a “long-awaited solution” to an “ongoing problem,” LaVar Ball announced Wednesday his intention to launch a professional league specifically geared toward recruiting top high school players who don’t want to make a “pit stop” at a college before becoming eligible for the NBA draft. The league will be called the Junior Basketball Association, and it will be sponsored by the Ball family’s company, Big Baller Brand.

“The JBA will cater to the top ranked high school basketball prospects in America,” Ball said in a statement (via SLAM). According to reports, Ball plans to pay players between $3,000 and $10,000 a month to fill eight teams, with 10-man rosters, based in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas.

“Getting these players is going to be easy,” Ball told ESPN’s Darren Rovell. “This is giving guys a chance to get a jump start on their career, to be seen by pro scouts, and we’re going to pay them because someone has to pay these kids.”

Ball said his motivation for creating the league came in part from NCAA President Mark Emmert, who commented after Ball’s son LiAngelo withdrew from UCLA earlier this month, following a suspension for an alleged incident of shoplifting in China.

“Is this a part of someone being part of your university as a student-athlete or is it about using college athletics to prepare yourself to be a pro?” Emmert said. “If it’s the latter, you shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

“He was right,” Ball told Rovell. “Those kids who are one-and-done, they shouldn’t be there with the NCAA trying to hold them hostage, not allowing them to keep the jersey they wear while selling replicas of them in stores. So our guy isn’t going to go to Florida State for a year. He’s going to come to our league.”

The league won’t have 19-year-old LiAngelo and 16-year-old LaMelo, the two younger sons of Ball, whose oldest son, Lonzo, is a rookie for the Lakers after having been the No. 2 overall pick in June’s NBA draft. LaMelo, who was pulled out of his Los Angeles-area high school in October, and LiAngelo Ball have signed to play with a professional team in Lithuania, starting in January.

LaMelo, however, could presumably play in the JBA at a later point, assuming the league gets off the ground. In the meantime, Ball said that the advent of his league means that “allowing the NCAA to regulate and control the eligibility status of top basketball prospects will no longer be an issue.”

“For decades, the NCAA has run a business that has exploited thousands of teens, while college institutions, coaches, media conglomerates, and corporate sponsors have all profited from the model,” Ball’s statement said. “The JBA is a long-awaited solution to this ongoing problem.”

Ball is hardly the only one criticizing the NCAA and other entities that profit off the labor of college athletes, many of whom have little interest in being students or whose team-related demands make it difficult to excel at their studies. Turning his idea of a league aimed at drawing top high school players into a reality, however, is another matter, particularly as his company is in its own early stages and doesn’t have anywhere near the resources of, say, Nike or Adidas.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time Ball has achieved the improbable, given how often he promised that Lonzo would become a member of his beloved Lakers. His plan, provided the funding and infrastructure come together, could be attractive to enough highly touted prospects to then attract fans.

And if the plan fails, well, we’ll still have some reason to talk about Big Baller Brand, which means Ball himself will have largely succeeded.

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