High school athletes are taking professional routes abroad to get paid now

Five-star basketball recruit R.J. Hampton, who was expected to be a bonafide top pick in the 2020 NBA draft, decided to spurn college to cash-in earlier.

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Will professional sports start to rethink the way it approaches youth athletes?

In light of two prominent amateur prospects in baseball and basketball deciding to bypass traditional standards of either entering college or the draft, it’s become pretty evident: The kids want to get paid.

Five-star basketball recruit R.J. Hampton, who was expected to be a bonafide top pick in the 2020 NBA draft, decided Tuesday to spurn college basketball to cash-in now by signing with the New Zealand Breakers, a professional basketball team in Australia’s National Basketball League.


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Hampton, who had interest from college basketball powerhouses including Kansas, Memphis, and Texas Tech, told USA Today that he wanted to play in the NBA and believes playing overseas will help him develop and better prepare him for it. He is ranked No. 5 on ESPN top 100 recruits from the class of 2019.

Hampton isn’t the first basketball player to go this route. NBA guard Brandon Jennings became the trendsetter when he bailed on Arizona to play in Italy back in 2008. Others like Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson did the same. All three were drafted in the first round when they eventually entered their respective drafts. Most recently LaMelo Ball, who dropped out of high school to play professionally in Lithuania as a junior, took a similar plan.

USA Today reported, citing sources, that Hampton’s contract to play abroad is “well beyond” what he could’ve made in the G League, the NBA’s startup league designed to offer a route for players who want to bypass college. The G League offers a salary of $125,000.

While contract details were not released, 247Sports reported that Hampton’s father said his son was offered over $1 million to play in China, but ultimately they decided that New Zealand was a better fit because “it’s an English speaking country” and “they have a really good partnership with the NBA.”

The Breakers said Hampton would join the leagues Next Star program, which is aimed at younger players who do not want to go to college or had their college careers cut short. Former Louisville top recruit Brian Bowen became the league’s first player to join the program after he was ruled ineligible when he transferred to South Carolina last year following a massive Adidas lawsuit which resulted in legendary coach Rick Pitino losing his job at Louisville.

Is this trend likely to have legs? Perhaps not. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s one-and-done rule isn’t a policy that benefits the league, The Washington Post reported. Under the current rules, high school players have to attend one season in college before turning pro but Silver said the 2022 draft will be the end of the rule. But bypassing traditional routes could become a new avenue in baseball.

MLB prospect forgoes the minors for a bigger payday in Japan

Nineteen-year-old pitcher Carter Stewart decided to cash in when he agreed to a six-year, $7 million contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in May, The Athletic reported. Stewart became the first to go this route in what is truly an odd, yet fascinating route to avoid toiling in the minors and potentially reaching your maximum worth in his youth.

Stewart was drafted No. 8 overall out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in 2018, but the team said he had an injury, which resulted in a $2 million offer, much lower than the $4.98 million slot value where Stewart was drafted. He declined the contract and opted to attend junior college in Florida.

Baseball’s draft system is different compared to other leagues. Players can be drafted out of high school or after their junior or senior years at a four-year college. Players who are at least 21-years-old, regardless of academic standing, are also eligible as are junior college players of any age.

Stewart could’ve reentered in June’s draft, but he wasn’t guaranteed to get more or even close to what he wanted before he was reportedly injured. With his reputation already damaged, his agent, Scott Boras, toyed the idea of player abroad which both he and his parents fell in love with, according to The New York Times.

What does it mean in the short term? Stewart will start in Japan’s minor leagues but will become a free agent when he’s 25. Compared to younger players who go through arbitration years in the MLB, he could become a one-of-a-kind prospect who could truly benefit financially at a much younger age if all pans out.

“These talents have a value, and we have had a system that has depressed the value of these players due to an artificial reserve,” Boras told The New York Times. “Major League Baseball has to create a system whereby these young men — and there are not many, that’s important to note, there aren’t many that are of this value — can fairly achieve their true value to a professional baseball franchise.

“When they do that, I believe that Major League Baseball will attract the majority of the talents. But if they refuse to do that, you will see international portals like this develop, because these talents are so valuable to leagues in both Japan and Korea.”


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Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.