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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Since the NBA raised its draft eligibility age limit to 19 in 2005, the Culligan City of Palms Classic, one of the premier high school basketball tournaments in the country, has been a breeding ground for players leaving college after a single year.
That may still be the case - at least for a few more years - even with the NBA's most recent concession allowing 18-year-old players to sign G League Select Contracts with the developmental league.
The alternate option to playing a year of college allows players to earn a significant paycheck in the gap year and allow for other avenues to earn money not available to amateurs, but the top seniors at this week's Fort Myers tournament at Suncoast Credit Union Arena either have their sights set on playing on college basketball's grandest stage or haven't given the G League option serious consideration.
The Select Contracts guarantee elite players from the Class of 2018 a $125,000 salary, which is almost four times the standard salary for the average players in the G League that is trying to establish itself as a true farm system for the NBA. Former WNBA player Allison Feaster oversees the group responsible for selecting the players to be offered contracts.
Former NBA veteran Rod Strickland, who was hired in November as a program manager for the new G League professional path program, told the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette earlier this month the program is an opportunity to prepare for the pros and earn a competitive salary.
"The positives are professional basketball. You are getting to develop yourself on a daily basis against pro competition, guys who have touched professional courts before. And you're getting to further your education," said Strickland, who played 18 years in the NBA. "And also you get the mentorship of the player development. There's a lot out there, there's a lot to know about being a professional player - the work ethic, life skills, as well as basketball."
But most seniors ranked in the top 20 by several recruiting services playing at the City of Palms still viewed playing in college for at least a year as their best path to improve their draft stock.
While Bradenton IMG Academy guard Josh Green applauded the NBA for creating another option, there is no history of success and being a test subject for the pilot program isn't enticing.
"No one knows how it will work," Green, who is ranked the No. 8 senior in USA Today's Chosen 25 and is signed with Arizona, told USA Today. "It looks like it will be a good thing for some people and I could see it working, but we just don't know yet. At the end of the day, we all want to get to the pro level. So if you can do that and succeed, you'd have to sacrifice the college experience."
Teammate Armando Bacot, who is headed to play at North Carolina, sees the G League option as good for players who are tasked with supporting their families.
Bacot, ranked No. 12 in USA Today's Chosen 25, said playing in the G League next year wouldn't help his development.
"I feel like I wouldn't do it because I'm a big," Bacot, the 6-foot-10 IMG forward, said. "I'd be going up against a lot stronger men, especially just getting in the G League and making $125,000. And (the G League veterans) have been there for so long and they're only making like $30,000. They're really going to try to abuse those kids. They're going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder so it's going to be a lot harder for a lot of the kids coming in."
Mouth of Wilson (Virginia) Oak Hill guard Cole Anthony, a consensus top-3 recruit and No. 1 in the USA Today Chosen 25, is still deciding his next move. He is considering North Carolina, Georgetown, Oregon, Miami, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame and if G League offers a contract he'd at least consider it.
"Me and my dad really haven't looked at that. Obviously, we're more worried about high school basketball," said Anthony, the son of former NBA player Greg Anthony. "That's our focus. If that happens to come up, my dad and I will consider it. We'll see what happens."
Mountain Brook senior forward Trendon Watford, the top recruit in Alabama and No. 22 in the USA Today Chosen 25, isn't sure he's on the G League's radar. The criteria for how the league picks players to offer contracts hasn't been made public.
"I haven't really heard from them," Watford said.
The Select Contracts could ultimately be a temporary fix until the NBA returns to a system that allows high schoolers to jump right to the league. The NBA and the players' union met in July in Las Vegas and seemed to agree on dropping the age limit to 18 - although not immediately - is the right move, the Washington Post reported.
"My personal view is that we're ready to make that change," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a press conference following the league's board of governors meetings.
If the rule change goes into effect by the 2021 or 2022 as expected, the City of Palms will again be a week-long stop for players a few months before draft night.
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