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Darius Bazley’s next stop is the G League

‘I took this route because I thought this was the best way to get to the NBA and stick’

The 2018 Nike Hoop Summit wrapped up Friday night at an NBA arena in Portland, Oregon, that could be one of Darius Bazley’s work offices some day. There were numerous NBA executives and scouts on hand to watch the teenager who could be part of their organization in the fall. After this, the slender 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward will be playing against grown men trying to make a living with their eyes on the NBA.

Bazley, a 17-year-old from Princeton High School in Cincinnati, played his final game as an amateur in the Hoop Summit at Moda Center, scoring six points for Team USA in an 89-76 loss to the World Select Team. ESPN’s ninth-ranked prospect in the Class of 2018 is skipping college and perhaps starting a new trend by playing professionally in the NBA’s G League.

“It brings more out of you,” Bazley said of playing in front of NBA scouts and executives. “You’ve got to get up for times and situations like that. When you’re playing in front of them, it’s basically like a tryout. It’s not nerve-wracking at all.

“Every time I step on the court, I am looking to learn, whether it’s from players, coaches, trainers. … I am definitely trying to learn and showcase what I can do in front of these NBA scouts.”

American high school players must be one year removed from high school before entering the NBA draft, per the NBA and National Basketball Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement. There has been much debate about whether college athletes should be paid and whether the NBA should once again allow players to go to the league straight from high school. But nothing will change before the 2018 NBA draft.

New York Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings played in China and Italy, respectively, out of high school rather than going to college for a year. But quietly, another pay option available is playing in the G League for a year and then entering the draft. While the pay is just a maximum of $26,000, the player could concentrate solely on basketball, accept money from agents and sponsors, get his housing paid for, play against current and future NBA players, spend time working out and schmoozing in an NBA training facility and get a portion of tuition paid for online college.

While the Italy-to-NBA route worked for Jennings, the eight-year NBA veteran now believes the G League is a great option for the high school elite.

“If he is elite, he can get a shoe contract,” Jennings previously told The Undefeated. “The agent can take care of the kid. It’s only for a couple months. You’re playing against grown men. You’re playing in front of NBA scouts every game. NBA scouts are always at the G League games. The G League is definitely better because you have NBA players who go up and down [to the G League], so you’re definitely playing against NBA players.”

So, why is Bazley going this route?

“It has nothing to do with the NCAA, kids not being paid or nothing like that, the system,” he said. “I could care less about that. … I am just trying to get to the NBA and stick. And I took this route because I thought this was the best way to get to the NBA and stick.”

Bazley won’t be the first high school player to take the G League plunge.

Starkville, Mississippi, prep star Latavious Williams graduated from high school and played in the NBA Development League for the Tulsa 66ers during the 2009-10 season. The 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound forward was ineligible to be promoted to play in the NBA, per rules, during his first season for Tulsa. But after one season removed from being in high school, Williams was eligible for the 2010 NBA draft. He was selected in the second round by the Miami Heat, which dealt his draft rights to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Williams never made it onto an NBA roster and currently plays for Valencia in Spain. Bazley was unfamiliar with Williams and his story.

Bazley said he wasn’t interested when his mother and high school coach initially brought up the idea of going from high school to the G League until they gave him more detailed information. After doing more research, he told Syracuse that he would be reneging on his scholarship offer.

“It was very tough to separate from something I’ve grown towards since they started recruiting me,” Bazley said. “Obviously, it was my dream school. It was really hard for me to pull away from that, especially that opportunity. It was hard for me.”

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has previously reported that Salt Lake City is expected to select Bazley first overall in the G League draft in October. Bazley has built a reputation as a gym rat, so not going to college will give him more time to work on his game next season. He declined to reveal what his plans are to develop this offseason to get ready for the G League draft, but he said he is going to have a trainer with him.

“Bazley can play multiple positions,” Team USA coach Mike Jones said. “He really wants to be great and it seems like he will put the work in to be great. As he gets stronger and really takes care of his body, the sky is the limit for what he can do.”

Bazley described having the opportunity to concentrate solely on basketball next season as “big.” He said he will hire an agent soon, which will be “key to his development,” and that it would be nice to land some endorsement money. Bills won’t be a problem for this teenager in the G League next season.

“We all got 24 hours. It is just how you use it,” Bazley said. “I will be able to work on myself a little bit more. I’m still going to be taking online classes, but just at my pace.”

Bazley said he isn’t trying to be a trendsetter and he doesn’t care about the naysayers. He believes the G League is the best move for him.

“A lot of people are getting a lot of different things and takeaways from this,” Bazley said. “I am just doing what is best for me. That’s it. I’m not trying to go against the grain. I’m not trying to be a rebel. I am doing what is best for me and my family.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.