Will Darius Bazley be a pioneer, sort of a Curt Flood for high school basketball players?
Or could he be a Lenny Cooke, possibly the cautionary tale of all cautionary tales for high school basketball players who declare for the NBA draft and then find out the NBA doesn’t want them and it’s too late to go to college?
Or will he end up somewhere in between?
Bazley, a first-team All-Ohio player from Cincinnati Princeton, announced Thursday he is decommitting from Syracuse, a school he signed with in November, to play in the G League, the developmental league for the NBA, for a year before becoming eligible for the 2019 NBA draft.
He is the first player to do that. Others, like Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks, Emmanuel Mudiay of the New York Knicks and Terrance Ferguson of the Oklahoma Thunder, skipped college to play overseas for a year before becoming draft eligible. But no one has gone from high school to the G League before.
Bazley originally committed to Ohio State but withdrew that commitment last April. At that time he was ranked the No. 53 prospect nationally by 247Sports.com. His stock has risen since then, though, and he is ranked ninth on ESPN.com’s Top 100 and is projected to be first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft.
Flood is the former major league baseball player who, so to speak, opened the flood gates holding back salaries in that sport when he successfully challenged the reserve clause, which allowed teams to keep the rights to a player for eternity or to the end of his career, whichever came first.
Cooke is a former New Jersey high school star who was rated higher than LeBron James going into his senior season in 2001 and decommitted from St. John’s to enter the 2002 NBA draft.
Cooke expected to hear his name called in the second half of the first round but he went undrafted. He played in the NBA D League, the United States Basketball League, the Continental Basketball Association and for teams in the Philippines and China but never spent a minute on an NBA roster.
Bazley told Yahoo Sports, “The G League will have the most to offer. I will get more out of that than going overseas.
“I’m taking this head on. This is the decision I made and I know it will work,” he said.
Reports in the Cincinnati media described Bazley as mature and a good student. Some say he relishes the pressure that he will face.
But having watched many 18-year-old struggle to maintain focus in the highly structured environment of college athletics, you wonder how he will fare in the less regimented world of minor league professional sports a year out of high school.
My own experience with minor league basketball was 30-plus years ago when the Ohio Mixers played in the CBA for two years.
There was little to no emphasis on development in that league, but the G League (named for its sponsor Gatorade) started out as the D League, with the D standing for developmental. So, presumably, there is more emphasis on developing players’ skills in it.
Maybe the bigger question is if NBA aspirations are better developed playing for a coach, like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim instead of a G League coach, and if those dreams have a better chance of coming true after a year of playing against elite college competition or a season in the G League.
Bazley is going to find out. And his decision could influence high school stars hoping to go to the NBA for years into the future.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.