Elite high school basketball prospect R.J. Hampton sent shock waves through the basketball world when he announced he’s skipping college to play overseas for a year.
Hampton, a 6-foot-5 combo guard from Little Elm, Texas, is ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the 2019 high school class, according to 247 Sports.
He appeared to have whittled his college choices down to Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech, but threw everyone for a loop Tuesday morning by saying he’ll to forgo college hoops and play for the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League.
“My dream has never been to play college basketball,” Hampton told Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s “Get Up!“
RJ Hampton explains why he said no to college basketball.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 28, 2019
“My dream has always been to get to the next level and to play in the NBA,” he said.
“I think this is the best route for me — to live like a pro and play with grown men every day and not have to juggle books and basketball and just focus on my main goal,” Hampton said.
The news was so shocking because it’s a first for such a high-profile recruit.
Other high school prospects — like the Knicks’ Emmanuel Mudiay, the Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson and former Bucks player Brandon Jennings — have skipped college to play overseas, but in each of those cases, there were concerns “regarding their academic or amateur status,” ESPN reported.
There were no such concerns with Hampton.
“Both of my parents went to college. My mom got her master’s degree. Education is a big thing in our family, but this is about focusing 100 percent on basketball,” Hampton told ESPN.
“You can always go back to college, but there’s only a short window as an athlete where you can play professional basketball, and I want to take advantage of that. I think that challenging yourself on a daily basis is the best way to improve.”
Hampton will likely play a major role right away for the Breakers, who are partially owned by former NBA star Shawn Marion and former Miami Heat player Matt Walsh. The Breakers have been league champions four times in the last nine years.
“Signing a player of R.J.’s caliber is a monumental undertaking that we don’t take lightly at the Breakers,” Walsh told ESPN.
“His family has entrusted us with their son spending one of the most important years in his development in New Zealand, and we are going to do everything we can as an organization to ensure that he reaches his goal of being a high draft pick and prepare him as best as we can to come in ready to make an impact in the NBA.”
Hampton was inspired to take this route by Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, who developed his skills in Europe.
“Luka Doncic is one of my favorite players to watch,” Hampton told ESPN.
“I started following him two years before he was drafted and watched at least 10 games of his this season. Seeing how he came into the NBA and being arguably the best rookie in the NBA shows you that you don’t have to go to college to be successful. Playing professionally against men helped him get to where he is now. He’s not the fastest or most athletic guy, but he gets where he wants on the floor and reads defenses better than almost any player in the NBA.”
Hampton signed a multiyear deal with the Breakers, according to ESPN, but it’s unlikely he’ll be there for more than a year, as he’ll be eligible for the 2020 NBA draft.
He’ll essentially be a one-and-done player, but in an overseas pro league rather than at college.
— Jason Jordan (@JayJayUSATODAY) May 28, 2019
“The NBL is looking to do this more and more now with players in my situation,” Hampton told ESPN. “I’m being put in a situation that is centered around me being successful and accomplishing my dream of getting to the next level. The Breakers were the best team for me. Their owners played in the NBA, and they told me their goal is to help me have a great experience in New Zealand and ultimately a great career in the NBA.”
“The fact that I’ll be able to play two preseason games against NBA teams in October was very attractive. I’ll be able to get a little taste of the atmosphere and how NBA games are played, which should expedite my development,” he added.
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