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High school star hopes his jump straight to NBA’s G League starts a ‘trend’

Darius Bazley, left, is guarded by Jalen Smith during the McDonald’s all-American game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

A wide-ranging FBI investigation into college basketball has led to arrests and the downfall of Rick Pitino at Louisville, and it has also brought renewed attention to the issue of top recruits being made to spend a year under NCAA rules before declaring for the NBA. Thursday brought news of the first five-star prospect who has decided to jump straight to the NBA’s G League — decommitting from Syracuse in the process — and Darius Bazley says he wants to start a “trend.”

A 6-9 small forward from Cincinnati who is ranked in the top 10 nationally at a number of recruiting websites, Bazley told Yahoo Sports’s Shams Charania: “This is going to happen down the road and become more common. But someone has to start the fire — and I believe I’m going to do that, and it’s very important to me.”

Since 2001, the NBA has had an official minor league, formerly called the NBA Development League, or D-League, but renamed the G League last year after a sponsorship arrangement with Gatorade. Most players in the league can be called up by the NBA for varying periods, but they first have to have declared for the NBA draft, so Bazley, who turns 18 in June, would have to stay in the G League for the entire 2018-19 season.

The NBA has a rule that draft-eligible players must be at least 19 in the same calendar year as the draft and, in the case of U.S. athletes, must also be at least one year removed from high school. That rule, in effect since 2006 and implemented to deter players from jumping straight from high school to the NBA, has created a high-profile class of “one-and-done” players at college programs, but it has also prompted a few prospects to spend their year after high school in the NBA’s minor league.

According to the G League, six players have been drafted out of it and into the NBA, but only one, P.J. Hairston in 2014, went in the first round. Hairston was a much different case than Bazley, as he had played two seasons at North Carolina before getting suspended and joining the D-League in January.

Hairston went late in the first round, 26th overall, while Bazley is projected to be a lottery pick. Other former lottery picks, including Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay, have chosen to play overseas while awaiting NBA eligibility, but Bazley told Charania, “There have been a lot of successful guys who have been brought up in the G League, and I’m confident that I will be one of them.”

“I’m aware that this might start a trend and that’s one of the reasons why I am doing this,” Bazley said. ” … Whenever I’m at basketball camps, I never hear any discussion about going from high school to the G League. But I believe now, there will be discussion about it.

“Not only are you getting paid to play the sport you love, but you’re getting the development that you need and want. You don’t have to worry about going to class, and don’t get me wrong, education is important and I’m going to still take classes at my own pace. But I’ll be around NBA games, focus on my body and focus on my development 24/7, without having to worry about anything else. This is strictly basketball. That’s what I want.”

With an expected salary of roughly $25,000, Bazley won’t get paid very much, but unlike college players, he will be able to collect possible endorsement money right away, take advantage of other opportunities and hire professional representation. Hairston’s suspension was related to his use of rental cars owned by a North Carolina party promoter, violating NCAA rules, and there have been countless similar situations.

There is some thought that, in addition to providing valuable educational opportunities, colleges offer young players a way to transition into adulthood and the expectations placed on star athletes. However, Bazley saw himself as being ready for the “challenge” of entering a league just one rung below the NBA and featuring many players much older and far more experienced than him.

European leagues could also have offered that sort of climate, but Bazley, who made a strong impression in the McDonald’s all-American game Wednesday, said that he would “get more out of [the G League] than going overseas.” He added: “The G League is the closest thing to the NBA. I see most guys now are spending time in the G League even after they went to school and the draft, so this gives me the chance to accelerate the process.”

“As far as maturity-wise, I believe I am as mature as they come, if not more mature, than guys that are in the G League and some guys in the NBA,” Bazley told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no screwing around.

“I’m not a party person. I literally hang out with friends at home or I’m in the gym.”

An NBA executive told Charania that Bazley’s decision “makes sense,” given the way NBA teams are increasingly using the G League to “develop players under NBA styles and under NBA eyes.” Noting that, unlike in Europe, there’s “no new culture in the G League” to which an American teenager would have to adapt, the executive said, “It could open the floodgates for players who want to focus on basketball and development, first and foremost.”

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