USA Basketball partners with NBA, NCAA to groom elite high school prospects

Yahoo Sports
The 2018 USA Basketball Junior National Select Team lost to a collection of international talent at the Nike Hoop Summit in April. (Getty Images)
The 2018 USA Basketball Junior National Select Team lost to a collection of international talent at the Nike Hoop Summit in April. (Getty Images)

Thirteen years after former NBA commissioner David Stern successfully lobbied to raise the draft age limit in an attempt to get “his league’s scouts and executives out of high school gyms,” the league is helping to pave the way for its personnel to increase involvement with prep players as young as 14 years old.

In coordination with the NBA, National Basketball Players Association and the NCAA, USA Basketball announced an expansion of its Men’s Junior National Team program to include year-round player development training. The program, designed to prepare prep stars for higher levels of basketball, will feature six training camps and competitions in the 2018-19 calendar year, according to a news release.

What this means for the NBA

There’s little doubt this was done in preparation for the abolishment of the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule, which restricts teenagers from entering the draft for one year after high school. The NBA issued a memo in June alerting teams that the rule will likely be rescinded between 2021 and 2024, according to ESPN. The first class to complete the four-year cycle through the new Junior National Team program will graduate in 2022, precisely when the one-and-done rule is expected to be lifted.

“We’ve been looking to get more involved in elite youth basketball for several years,” NBA president of social responsibility and player programs Kathy Behrens told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on Wednesday. “We really have a sense of urgency around it. This is exactly what we’ve been saying we need to do.”

Ideally, the developmental program will ensure that elite prospects can better handle the transition from high school stardom to NBA professionalism than they were in 2005. Stern’s determination that 18-year-olds were failing more often than not — even as prep-to-pro sensations Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were dominating the league — was the impetus for the one-and-done rule.

Of course, the NCAA is also filled with ideals about molding boys into men, and that led to an FBI investigation into college coaches, agents and shoe executives conspiring to curry favor with top prep basketball talents through large sums of money. Introducing high school freshmen to the promise of an NBA fortune and the people responsible for facilitating it could only further muddy the waters.

What this means for USA Basketball

The new youth development regimen, which includes a health and wellness program led by former Boston Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte and educational training for parents to assist their student-athletes’ development, also appears to be a step toward all parties aligning with recent NCAA rules changes.

Following the federal investigation into recruiting corruption and subsequent recommendations from the Commission on College Basketball chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the NCAA announced earlier this month that “high school players can be represented by an agent beginning July 1 before their senior year in high school, provided they have been identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball” and pending the revocation of the NBA’s one-and-done rule.

While reports initially suggested that the NBA and USA Basketball were blindsided by the NCAA’s announcement, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that “USA Basketball doesn’t have the infrastructure or interest in accepting the role of evaluating the nation’s top prospects,” this program essentially does just that. Approximately 80 players — 20 from each high school class — will participate in the developmental program annually. If you were to divide the 60 draft picks each year equally among high school, college and international prospects, that leaves 20 job openings for preps.

In addition to April’s Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, and July’s international competition, USA Basketball will conduct four training camps for the Junior National Team over the next year — three at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and a fourth at the Final Four in Minneapolis.

While they didn’t say this explicitly in the news release, the NBA, NBPA, NCAA and USA Basketball seemingly just announced a joint program to begin grooming professional basketball players at the age of 14. That has its pros (the earlier you start preparing yourself for any field of business, the more likely you are to succeed) and its cons (what happens when a still-developing kid puts his education on the back burner because he’s been led to believe he will play in the NBA and then doesn’t make the cut), and it may take us another 13 years to determine which side outweighs the other.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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