On June 20, 2019, NBA fans tuned in to witness the next wave of NBA stars be drafted into the NBA. Most notable was Zion Williamson who was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans as the number one overall pick. Williamson was the most anticipated NBA draft pick since LeBron James in 2003. NBA fans are excited to see what Williamson will bring to the game. Also, that night another player who has already proved to be a game changer was drafted. That player is Darius Bazley. Darius Bazely was drafted in the first round at number 23 by the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) thanks to a plan orchestrated by Rich Paul.
Darius Bazley Emerged as a Game Changer Well Before the NBA Draft
Bazely earned his status as a game changer way before the 2019 NBA Draft took place. He was a highly sought after high school recruit. ESPN ranked Bazley as the 13th best high school player in the class of 2018. Bazely was slated to play for Syracuse University. To the surprise of many, at the end of his senior year in high school, Bazley announced that he was going to forego college to the NBA G-League. Soon after, Bazley hired Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (LeBron’s childhood friend and agent) to be his agent. Bazley again changed his mind and decided not to enter the G-League. He instead opted to spend a year training for the NBA Draft on his own.
In addition to training for the NBA Draft, Bazley landed an internship with New Balance. With the help of Rich Paul, Bazley brokered a fairly lucrative internship deal. The internship included a shoe deal where Bazley would receive $1 million dollars regardless of how his NBA career turns outs. He can receive another $14 million from the internship if he reaches all of the performance incentives.
Bazley took the road less traveled. He charted his own path to the NBA and made money and gained valuable real world work experience while he did it. He is not the first player to opt of out of college. There have been several players who decided to play professionally overseas before entering the NBA Draft. However, Bazley did it entirely different. He did not play organized basketball anywhere for an entire year. He only worked out on his own and took a sort of vocational education path with the New Balance internship. Many questioned if Bazely would be drafted at all or if he would be drafted at a lower seed.
Bazley was drafted with the 23rd pick in the first round. One could argue that Bazley hurt himself in the NBA Draft by not playing in college. Had he had a great year in college, he may have been drafted in the top ten of the first round. However, if he did that he would not have gained the real-world experience he did as an intern. He certainly would not have been allowed to make $1 million while doing it. What if Bazley had suffered an injury in college? An injury would have negatively affected his draft potential. Arguments can be made for and against Bazely’s unique path to the NBA. One thing is for sure, Bazley and Rich Paul have changed the game.
They have given future players and agents another path to the NBA to consider. Work out on your own while getting real world work experience. That work experience could even turn be leverged into endorsement deal once in the NBA.
Many questioned whether Bazley is ready for the NBA since he has not played organized basketball in a year. Some argue that Bazley was not a good pick for the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, that remains to be seen. It is likely that Bazely will have some adjustments to make during his transition into the NBA. However, that is true for all players not matter where they were previously. If a player goes to the NBA from college, from a professional league overseas, or from private training the player is still going to have to adjust to the NBA. It is very likely that Darius Bazley will turn out to be a good pick for OKC. After all, he managed to be picked in the first round even though he did not play organized basketball for an entire year. He was drafted in front of a lot of players who did.
It is no doubt that Bazley and Paul have charted a new path. The question is will future highly sought after high school recruits take a similar path? It is possible that other players will follow Bazley’s path, especially if Bazley’s NBA career takes off. Future athletes are also likely to take this path if the NCAA continues to make and enforce rules that prohibit college athletes from reaping the financial rewards that coaches and other sports administration officials enjoy. Bazley’s path to the NBA is definitely a game changer for future generations to pay close attention to.