Jalen Green could have walked onto any campus in America and been the biggest star in college basketball next year. He would have been plastered all over ESPN, with the school of his choosing getting primetime games on national television and his highlights dominating SportsCenter all season.
Instead, Green — a consensus top-three recruit in the high school class of 2020 — is choosing to take his talents to the G League. Green picked turning pro over a year at Auburn or Memphis Thursday afternoon, ending most widely speculated-upon basketball recruitment of the year by choosing an unprecedented option.
Green will reportedly earn $500K for his season in the G League, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Jon Givony, a massive increase from the $125K salary the league offered to high school players last year. Green isn’t just jumping into the league — he’s getting his own team. The California native will headline a new Los Angeles-based team with a primary objective of preparing Green for life in the NBA.
The G League is making Green the centerpiece of a new year-long developmental program that will include guidance from veteran coaches and players to help him assimilate into a professional lifestyle. Green’s team could play games against G League teams that don’t count in the standings, as well as facing international teams and NBA academies throughout the world, according to ESPN. The G League is also reportedly offering Green a full college scholarship he can cash in at any time.
There are few players better prepared for this route than Green, who already feels like he’s spent a lifetime in the spotlight as a top recruit. How his G League experience treats him could shape the future of the way young players enter the NBA.
Green is a test case for American players looking to stay home while skipping college
Amid rumors of the NBA working to abolish the age limit and open the draft to high school players, Green is becoming the first star to try a new pathway the league will hope is a solid alternative for American players looking to bypass college basketball.
The G League’s increased salary offer to Green comes a year after top American recruits LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton chose to play in the Australia-based NBL last year. Both are expected to be lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, with Ball positioning himself as the potential No. 1 overall pick. The NBA has found a way to keep top American basketball prospects who want an alternative to college basketball at home. Green could be a trendsetter in this regard.
Green isn’t the only top American recruit set to play in the G League next season — fellow five-star prospect Isaiah Todd is taking the same path. Todd had verbally committed to Michigan, but announced this week he would instead turn pro. Todd isn’t quite a super prospect on the level of Green, but he is still a consensus top-15 recruit who could be a first-round draft pick in 2021.
The days of top prospects like Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Ball needing to flee to Italy, China, and Australia to make money playing basketball while skipping college are over. The G League is committed to becoming a viable path for the nation’s top prospects who want to turn pro immediately. This will be a fascinating experiment.
Jalen Green mixtape highlights
Green is uniquely positioned for this route
Green didn’t need college basketball’s star-making power because he is already a star. He is approaching 1 million Instagram followers before he graduates high school, and recently starred in his own series on the new streaming service Quibi. Like Ball before him, Green is on the leading edge of the next wave of superstars that often feel like social media influencers as much as basketball players. Also like Ball, Green doesn’t need college basketball to launch his career before he can eventually enter the NBA Draft.
Fairly or not, Green has been drawing Kobe Bryant comparisons for years. As one NBA Western Conference executive told the San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s probably unfair for anyone to compare a high school kid to Kobe, but Jalen might be as good as Kobe was at the same age. He’s that special.”
A 6’6 shooting guard, Green has absolutely elite vertical explosiveness attacking the basket. Blessed with a rare first step and breathtaking leaping ability off one foot, Green has become known as a human highlight reel during his high school days. In addition to putting up huge numbers at Napa-based Prolific Prep this year, Green has also been a staple of USA Basketball’s junior program. Green helped Team USA win gold medals in the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup, 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup (where he was named tournament MVP), and 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
There is no denying Green’s natural talent. The question will be his “feel for the game” — how he learns to read the floor, make teammates better, and become an efficient scorer. Once upon a time, Andrew Wiggins was also a top-ranked high school recruit with incredible physical talent. Wiggins’ NBA career has been underwhelming thus far given the hype he entered the league with. Will Green suffer from similar problems or actually live up to expectations?
Whatever the answer, the G League now becomes a vital part of Green’s story. He feels certain to be a top-three draft pick in 2021 regardless of how he performs, likely competing with Oklahoma State commit Cade Cunningham for the No. 1 pick.
Green could have been a star anywhere, but he chose to be one in the G League. The basketball world will be watching.