On a Saturday afternoon in late March, Darius Bazley was among the 20 prospects running the floor in the Brooklyn Nets practice facility, preparing to play in the 2018 Jordan Brand Classic. Back then, he was one of the top high school basketball players in the country who was committed to play his freshman year at Syracuse, before likely bolting to the NBA as a one-and-done talent after his lone season starring in the Carrier Dome.
An extremely athletic lefty with length, the 6-foot-9 wing from Princeton High School in Cincinnati ran the floor well, both with and without the ball, during those practice sessions. He handled the ball with aplomb for a skinny young man with a wingspan that measures 6-foot-11 and played an all-around game, showing an advanced ability to score, pass, rebound and defend.
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His combination of size, length and skill definitely caught the attention of the NBA scouts in attendance that day.
He faced the basket while operating in the high post, splashing mid-range jumpers and hitting cutters for easy layups. He drove the lane with either hand while making good decisions off the dribble.
On defense, he was very active in the lane with good instincts while blocking and altering shots in addition to clogging up the passing lanes. He also proved to be an adept defender on the perimeter. He grabbed defensive boards and looked good in transition, either pushing with his own dribble or zipping passes upcourt to his streaking teammates.
In the actual game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 2nd, Bazley scored 12 points, snagged nine rebounds, had two assists and one blocked shot in 17 minutes of action.
It seemed that Syracuse coaches Jim Boeheim and Adrian Autry were getting their hands on another player that would fit perfectly into their system, which values ballers with length and multiple dimensions in their offensive and defensive skill sets.
But Bazley announced that he would de-commit from Syracuse and go straight to the G League instead. He became the first top high school prospect to bypass college in favor of the NBA’s developmental league.
Shortly after making that announcement though, he decided to skip the G-League altogether.
“Talking about it over with my group, we felt confidently that the G League wasn’t going to be needed and now I can use this time to work on my craft,” Bazley told The Athletic. “It’s mainly me talking to [agent] Rich [Paul], he knows so much, and whenever he speaks my ears perk up. When Miles [Bridges] was in Cleveland for his predraft workouts, whenever he got a chance to work out in front of NBA teams, I was working out in the gym, too. So that played a part in it, me playing well in those workouts for us to say there’s no upside in the G League. If you play well, it’s expected. If you don’t play well, you’re not NBA-ready. That’s what they’ll say. For me, working out and preparing is the best route.”
Syracuse commit wasted no time in his senior season debut, dropping 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a win!
“The G League is the only league where winning might not be everything. Development is the most important aspect, but guys are playing for the team and at the same time trying to play for themselves. That’s not the type of guy I am. For me in those settings to just get mine, I’ve never been brought up that way. I feel basketball is a team sport and everybody is supposed to eat. In the G League, that’s not the way it is. Everyone is trying to get an opportunity to go to the NBA.
“I take pride in my decision. There are no regrets at all. At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want to do. Whether it’s going to college, whether it’s skipping college to go to the NBA, whether it’s quitting basketball altogether — people will make their choices. This decision is what I wanted to do, and I embrace that. It’s my life, my decision, my path and my journey.”
Some people snickered and brought up the case of Mitchell Robinson. One of the top players in the high school class of 2017, Robinson, who many have compared to a young DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler, had originally committed to play his college ball at Texas A&M. He later announced that he would attend Western Kentucky. After practicing with the team for two weeks, he left the school, was suspended and considered transferring to Kansas or LSU.
Robinson then announced that he would forgo college altogether to prepare on his own for the 2018 NBA Draft. Once seen as a certain lottery pick, the year off did not endear him to NBA scouts, and he was eventually taken in the second round, with the 36th overall pick, by the New York Knicks. His decision to sit the year out cost him millions of dollars.
But Bazley’s decision is an entirely different case. As mentioned earlier in The Athletic article, his agent is Rich Paul, who is partners with LeBron James in the Klutch Sports Agency, which represents some of the NBA’s top talent like Anthony Davis, John Wall, Ben Simmons and others.
LeBron and his team of trusted confidants which includes Paul and Maverick Carter, have long established themselves as bright businessmen who think outside of the box. They march to the beat of their own drum and their business ventures have proven that they’re not afraid to create new models for their commercial enterprises rather than following the standard script.
They just don’t talk about it, they’re sincerely ’bout it – ’bout it.
Aside from being one of the greatest players of all time, LeBron’s impact extends way beyond the basketball court. Whether it’s his approach to contract negotiations, the formation of Klutch Sports, his LRMR marketing agency, his equity based endorsement deals, his minority ownership of the Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League and the SpringHill Entertainment production company, LeBron and his crew have been making serious moves for years on the business side of the game.
One of their most recent projects, the HBO documentary Student Athlete, examined the hypocritical nature of the NCAA.
A billion dollar industry, but the players pay the price. From producers Maverick Carter and Steve Stoute and executive producer LeBron James, HBO Sports presents Student Athlete, a documentary revealing the exploitative world of high-revenue college sports. Premiering October 2 at 10 PM on HBO.
And their latest move, orchestrating Bazley’s signing with New Balance for a $1 million internship and sneaker deal, is another stroke at giving athletes more and better options on their path to the NBA.
By skipping college and working for New Balance, Bazley and his estimable advisory team of Rich Paul and LeBron, among others, are charting a new path for preparing for the NBA Draft.
According to The New York Times, “The internship, to be precise, is folded into a handsome shoe contract Bazley, 18, has landed with New Balance on the lure of his pro potential. According to Paul, Bazley’s multiyear deal will pay him $1 million “no matter what happens” with his N.B.A. career — and can pay up to $14 million if he reaches all performance incentives.”
In addition to training, working out and putting some muscle on his lean frame, Bazley will spend approximately three months with New Balance’s marketing department, digital and social teams and footwear and apparel design arms and the company’s sports laboratory in the suburbs of Boston.
Before becoming draft eligible, players in Bazley’s situation have more often chosen to play pro ball abroad. Brandon Jennings spent a year playing in Italy. Terrance Ferguson worked on his craft in Australia. Emmanuel Mudiay earned his first-year checks in China.
Now, Bazley is breaking new ground and presenting others that follow with different options.
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“In this industry, there haven’t been a lot of options for these kids and their families,” Rich Paul told the New York Times. “More people would challenge the system, but there hasn’t been a real success story yet. Darius has an opportunity to be that success story.”
And with the business and advisory team that he has by his side, along with his hoops talent, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll succeed in more ways than one.