Duke Basketball: G League now Blue Devils’ top competitor for top recruits

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The NBA’s G League will now offer top high school talents a six-figure salary and the freedom to sign endorsement deals, instantly affecting the current recruiting strategy of the Duke basketball program.

So much for the Duke basketball coaches landing 2019 five-star prospects Vernon Carey Jr., Cole Anthony, and Isaiah Stewart.

That ship has likely sailed unless head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff are willing to break the rules by paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars — as seemingly every non-Duke fan is already accusing them of doing with current freshman Zion Williamson as a result of the ongoing corruption trial.

Actually, even a six-figure amount probably won’t be enough in the case of players as marketable as Williamson.

More from Ball Durham

According to Jonathan Givony of ESPN.com, the NBA’s G League announced on Thursday that, beginning in the summer of 2019, it will offer an alternate route to one-and-done-caliber recruits who are at least 18 years old (by the Sept. 15 prior to the upcoming season) but not yet able to enter the NBA draft (the current league rule requires a player to be 19 years old and one year removed from high school in order to be eligible for the draft).

The G League will offer one-year contracts worth $125,000 to a select group of graduating seniors from each class, beginning with the class of 2019.

But the salary won’t be the strongest incentive.

In addition to the guaranteed amount, these players will be allowed to hire an agent and sign potentially lucrative endorsement deals. They will then be eligible to enter the NBA draft the following year.

In other words, if Williamson had this opportunity last summer and had chosen this route, you would already likely see him on Nike commercials — not in a Duke jersey — and his bank account would already likely be in the millions as a result.

But NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested this will benefit college basketball.

"“We appreciate the NBA’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally,” Emmert said in a statement, according to Givony. “The NCAA recently implemented significant reforms to support student-athlete success, including more flexibility when deciding whether to play professionally. Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”"

How the players will be selected, targeted, and then assigned to a G League team — as well as how they will mesh with older G League players who only make $35,000 per season — are questions that will be addressed by a committee to be formed at a later date.

But there is no question that if I was a top-five recruit in the 2019 class — as Duke targets Carey Jr., Anthony, and Stewart are, according to the 247Sports Composite — I would no longer have any interest in attending college unless a coach slipped me a briefcase full of Benjamins. I would take the guaranteed money, and I suspect the players will all also make that choice.

Although the G League will not pursue — at least publicly — guys who have already committed to a school, it will not prevent a guy from making the decision to decommit on his own.

This means that even if the Blue Devils receive a commitment in the coming weeks from Carey Jr. — who will be on his official visit to Duke this weekend — he may renege on his promise at a later date and decide to cash in on his talents via this new opportunity. And I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

In my mind, this new program will only increase the temptation for coaches of college basketball powerhouses to cheat by paying players. Now, instead of wondering if their top competitors for top-rated recruits are offering them money, they will know this to be the case.

Yes, this move by the G League is most likely going to further damage the college game. If the one-and-done rule were simply lifted altogether — as it is expected to be by the summer of 2022 — there would be no issue. If that were the case, coaches would know they could not compete with the millions of dollars that top-notch prospects could gain by signing NBA contracts and, therefore, have no reason to recruit them at all.

But as it is with this latest news, the temptation to pay recruits under the table will only increase because many top recruits will be on the fence when trying to decide whether they would benefit more from the exposure from playing college ball for a year or from taking the guaranteed contract from the G League and potentially going ahead and signing a shoe deal.

In summary, this is giving me a headache to think about. It’s just a hot mess. And I see it as more of a potential problem than a solution.

One person this new program shouldn’t impact, though, is the Blue Devils’ lone 2019 commitment, five-star forward Wendell Moore, who will likely be the type of player — good enough to potentially be a stud for the Blue Devils but not likely good enough to be selected by the G League straight out of high school — the Duke coaches will be recruiting more of from here on out.

Next. Duke-Kentucky preview and prediction. dark

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball recruiting updates, analysis, opinions, and predictions.