Campers passed by the Carmichael Arena on Sunday evening to pick up the ball, then had to walk almost a mile to get back to where they were staying. A camper played, left, then made the long return to play a second time. Williams, who was watching the games, took note.
He then brought the child back to the dorm. Later, he told his assistant colleague Eddie Fogler: “I just saw the best high school 6-4 player I have ever seen.
Fogler asked who it was.
“Mike Jordan,” replied Williams.
If Mike Jordan were a high school student in 2020 instead of 1980, it wouldn’t be a revelation at a college camp; it would be a well-established commodity. He would not be on his way to three years in North Carolina; he would be on the way to the NBA draft after one season. University basketball would be a pit stop, a downside, maybe something to get around completely.
In 2020, some valuable elite players grow up dreaming of being a Tar Heel. Or a Kentucky wild cat. Or a Duke Blue Devil. Or a Kansas Jayhawk. Or a university player of all kinds.
They dream of the NBA and trace the quickest route to get there. The proof of this is everywhere, and it has never been as clear as it is right now.
Last week junior high school student Jay Scrubb announced he was keeping his name in the draft instead of playing in Louisville. Almost no one has seen Scrubb play, and there are no pre-draft camps or combines in which he can present his game against a similar competition. But his father says he’s going to be a star, so Scrubb has it all.
Michigan five-star hires Isaiah Todd on Tuesday Told Sports Illustrated that it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t report to Ann Arbor and will play professionally instead.
On Wednesday, it was reported that the G League – the NBA development league – is stepping up its efforts to recruit young talent straight out of high school. The G League announced in 2018 that it would start offering six-digit contracts to elite prospects, and while it didn’t have much of an impact on the 2019 senior class, it could be different this time- this.
And Thursday, five-star rookie Jalen Green is expected to announce his future plans – Memphis, Auburn or professional basketball. Smart Money says he’s getting pro, even if he’s too young to be drafted and play in the NBA. He could end up taking one of these G League pay days.
Among the 2019 senior class, R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball completely bypassed the university to play professionally abroad. The No. 1 player in the Rivals.com class, James Wiseman, played three games in Memphis, was suspended for illicit benefits, and then just decided not to bother to return – he gave up and is become pro. Khalil Whitney, a Top 15 player who went to Kentucky, left the team in January but was not transferred – he just gave up, hoping he will average 3.3 points per pros game.
They don’t want to be in college.
For an increasing number of players, being paid to play in front of indifferent crowds for the Maine Red Claws, Reno Big Horns or Fort Wayne Mad Ants is preferable to the room, the board, the tuition fees and the worshiping masses at Rupp Arena or Allen Fieldhouse.
Former Whitney, Kentucky teammates are examples A, B, C, D and E of this dynamic. It would be Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery, who recently announced his early departure from Big Blue Nation for professional prom.
Maxey is a no-brainer, a first round lock that could be a lottery choice. He played a year in the UK. Hagans and Quickley were sophomores who had good seasons, and no one was shocked to see them leave (that doesn’t mean they will be drafted in the first round, or not at all, but the hope was that they would continue). Richards was a junior who had a pivotal season, making him an elder in the Kentucky program.
Then there is Montgomery, a former five-star recruit who has been disappointing for two seasons. He played 65 college games and scored six doubles. If anything, he played like a guy over his head in Kentucky – not a guy ready for the level beyond Kentucky.
But Montgomery is the latest in a long line of Wildcats who saw college basketball as something to endure, not kiss, ready to go as quickly as possible. John Calipari built and sold his program as a driving service on the pros’ way – exactly what the best prospects want to hear – so it’s not a shock when players treat it exactly like that. Ready or not, they’re leaving.
After losing 94% of their score in 2019-2020, Kentucky fans have at least one other group of blue shredders to get excited about next season. But as hard as these fans cheer the name on the front of the jersey, it won’t mean as much to the guys who wear them. And the next group does not plan to stay longer than the last group.
That’s how it is in college basketball because the product stays in an inconsistent flow. Mid-major programs are now long-range developers for the big majors, who are short-range developers for the NBA.
If the association changes its minimum age for the draft in 2022, more players will ignore the college option. But even as it stands, the G League and other professional leagues are gaining popularity with high school stars.
They can dream of becoming the next Mike Jordan. But it’s the Bulls version, not the North Carolina Tar Heel. Very few elite players dream of it more.