For decades, the equation for high school basketball stars advancing to the next level was fairly simple: college basketball, or the NBA. The overwhelming majority chose the former, with universities and the NBA embracing a system — one that persists to this day — that effectively utilized college basketball as a sort of minor league. The advent of “one-and-done” in 2006 — the NBA rule preventing players from entering the league immediately upon their high school graduation — only solidified that steppingstone construction. Where previous stars such as LeBron James and Kevin Garnett were able to jump straight to the NBA, Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson were compelled to play one year of college basketball before being permitted to make money in the league. It’s a system that still has its drawbacks, critics and is not always viewed as serving the best interests of the players in question or the colleges they (briefly, in many cases) attend.
But for the 2022 high school class, the options have grown. The NBA’s G League Ignite program formally launched last season with stars, including Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, forgoing college basketball to play a developmental year on the professional level. A startup league, Overtime Elite, began play last month and has attracted more players — including not-yet-graduated high schoolers — to begin earning money and playing professionally with an eye toward NBA careers. Additionally, more U.S.-born and an increasing amount of European players have begun exploring alternative professional options, including Australia’s NBL, where LaMelo Ball, R.J. Hampton and Josh Giddey each served a stint before becoming first-round NBA draft picks.
Each of the routes now available to players has its differences, some pronounced and some subtle. We examined the intricacies of each pathway below: