Hoops Traveler: The case for Australia

Imagine that you have just graduated high school and you have your sights set on playing professional basketball in the NBA. The NBA requires that you wait one year before entering. Therefore, you have some decisions to make about how to stay productive during this time.

Now imagine that in spite of never having played an NBA game, you have 5.7 million Instagram followers and half the basketball fans in the country have known about you since your first year of high school.

With that level of fame, the pressure is on and the clock is ticking. What do you choose? Here’s some guidance.

For most American players, this decision is easy. You spend one year at a college basketball powerhouse, learn from the best college coaches soaking up all you can, and get out.

But Charlotte Hornets NBA guard Lamelo Ball from Chino Hills, Calif., saw value in a less conventional option.

During his gap year, Ball played for the Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia. At face value this seems like a head scratcher. Ball had committed to playing at the University of California, Los Angeles, a Div. I basketball stalwart, at 13 years old. 

Not only would he have entered a program that produced NBA legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he also would have been minutes away from his home. Being in the United States during the year, he would have garnered more attention from NBA recruiters.

What is the case for Australia, then?

The NBL’s Next Stars program provided this opportunity for Ball and many other current NBA players, such as the Denver Nuggets’ RJ Hampton and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson. 

The theme of the program is a player-driven one, giving a lot and taking little away. It gives players $50,000, as well as access to a luxurious home and transportation amenities. Most importantly, it gives players an opportunity to compete and develop. 

“Our league is a pretty tough league. Not as known around the world, but there’s not a lot of teams and it’s very physical, very competitive. I think that’s given [Ball] a leg up when you compare him to college guys. I think he’ll be a bit more ready and accustomed to that grown-man basketball,” Andrew Bogut said in a radio interview. Bogut is a former NBA player and one of Ball’s opponents in the NBL.

This concept of giving a lot and taking a little is what college basketball in the United States is often criticized for not doing. With no opportunity to make money as well as having to play in systems rigidly imposed by college coaches, more players are seeing international basketball as a stronger career-building option.

Through its program, Australia is primed to attract this market. The opportunity for American players to get out of their comfort zone while still playing in an English-speaking country with a high standard of living is a perfect mix. 

With the style of play in the NBL being similar to that of the NBA, Ball and many others who pass through Australia should be well equipped for the rigors of the best basketball league in the world. After all, the NBA is still the dream, and right now, Australia, while not in first place yet to college basketball, is quietly inching closer.

What’s your decision?