GREENSBORO — They call it the “professional path,” an idea aimed at reducing the number of so-called one-and-done college basketball players.
And it’s up to a former one-and-done player to implement it.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the new president of the NBA G-League, visited Greensboro this week to meet with the 3-year-old Swarm’s front office and supporters, as well as tour The Fieldhouse and Coliseum complex.
Abdur-Rahim took over the G-League job from Malcolm Turner back in January, after Turner moved on to become the athletics director at Vanderbilt.
He inherited a growing minor league on the cusp of reaching its stated “30 for 30” goal of one affiliated minor-league team per NBA franchise. The final two necessary G-League expansion franchises should make that a reality sometime in the next two or three years.
And he inherited the brand-new, untested "professional path" plan.
It’s not a panacea, Abdur-Rahim explained over a turkey-and-Havarti croissant sandwich.
After much hand-wringing and recommendations from the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball led by Condolezza Rice, the new plan lays out an alternative for elite high school players who believe they’re ready for the pro game. Instead of being one-and-done college players, they can go straight to the G-League.
“The NBA stepped in and offered an opportunity to young people to … start your professional career,” Abdur-Rahim said. “We’ve built out what we think is a robust experience for young people, stating with salary of $125,000. There’s a full development plan, on-court and off-court. All of our G-League teams now are required to have off-court player development personnel, someone who’s working with our teams and our players on life skills.”
There’s also a partnership with Arizona State, he said, so G-League players can take online courses to work toward a college degree.
Sounds great, right? But does an elite recruit want to sacrifice the year of ready-made branding by playing on TV for a power conference NCAA team?
Because the G-League has no intent of stopping that practice. Frankly, it’s not the league’s job to fix college basketball. The league is there to develop NBA talent. Period.
“To date we haven’t signed a young person,” Abdur-Rahim said. “A caveat to keep in mind is this is not something where we are recruiting young people. It’s something we’re offering. It’s there if they want it. … We’re not recruiting. We’re not in competition with the UNCs and Dukes of the world.”
Bottom line: It’s an experiment that has an awful lot of upside.
But players who do choose this route, who opt for the 50-game pro schedule, the travel and intense coaching of the G-League better understand what they’re getting into.
“It’s not for everyone. It’s not something we would extend to every 18-year-old,” Abdur-Rahim said. “We have a committee in place that would evaluate the ability of that young person to withstand the G-League. We like to think of ourselves as the second-best basketball league in the world. Just look at this past year, when you had guys like Devonté Graham and Dwayne Bacon playing in the G-League (for the Swarm). ... That’s the kind of guy a high school kid is going to play against. It’s a very tall order. You have to control your expectations.”
And controlling expectations is a lot to ask. It’s a different world than when Abdur-Rahim was a high school recruit in Georgia headed for one season of stardom at Cal before becoming an NBA lottery pick in 1996.
“For me at the time, I had no thought of being a one-and-done,” Abdur-Rahim said. “The thinking is much different now. I assumed I would go to school and be in school. My focus was on having fun and being a really good college player. Young people now are going in with a preconceived notion of, ‘OK, I’ll do a year of school,’ but the point of school is to further their professional career. That’s the reality.”
It’s a reality that clearly troubles the new G-League president, who went back to Cal and finished his bachelor’s degree and then, after retiring from the NBA, went to Southern Cal for an MBA degree.
“I wasn’t ready (for the NBA). I wasn’t,” Abdur-Rahim said. “But I knew I was going to be drafted. Physically, I wasn’t ready, and then I was drafted to an expansion team (Vancouver Grizzlies) in its second year of existence. The emotional toll of losing was impossible to prepare for. I had never lost. Anywhere. That was taxing by itself. Then there’s the physical grind, the continual development. I had a lot to learn.”
Abdur-Rahim was 19 years old the day he was picked third overall in the NBA Draft.
At 42, he sees the value of his new job with clear eyes and the wisdom of experience.
“It would’ve been nice, at the time (in 1996), to have the G-League,” Abdur-Rahim said. “I learned by going through the fire. It would’ve been nice to have a night or two where I was the more talented, dominant player on the court and could have some success.”