May 25, 2021 - Sports

New paths emerge for teenage basketball stars

Illustration of a basketball hoop that's very far away

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Elite high school basketball players have more options than ever when it comes to choosing the path that's right for their career.

Driving the news: Six of the nation's best high school basketball programs are forming a new league called the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC), which will begin play this fall.

The schools: Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), Montverde Academy (Florida), La Lumiere School (Indiana), Sunrise Christian Academy (Kansas), Wasatch Academy (Utah) and IMG Academy (Florida). Two more teams, still TBA, will join for the inaugural season.

How it works: They'll play a 10-game season, followed by a postseason tournament. Players will remain unpaid — and thus retain college eligibility — but should earn valuable exposure with so many high-profile matchups.

The backdrop: The NIBC was technically formed last winter for a one-off tournament to allow these teams to compete during the pandemic. It was a success, so the idea evolved, and the league could potentially expand in the coming years.

The state of play: The NIBC is one of a handful of new options for budding teenage basketball stars.

  • The NBA's G League Ignite pays teens upwards of $500,000 to forego college and spend their pre-NBA-eligibility year in the G League. Five-star recruit Scoot Henderson just became the first high school junior to sign with them after graduating a year early.
  • Overtime Elite (OTE) is essentially a European-style soccer academy, but for basketball. They're building a 103,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta for ~30 high schoolers who will train, compete and study there. Players will earn six figures, performance bonuses and equity.

The big picture: While G League Ignite and OTE were responses to a landscape that quashed youngsters' ability to earn money or enter the draft at 18, impending NIL legislation could make the traditional college path, highlighted by NIBC, attractive again.

  • The paychecks attached to Ignite and OTE mean those players start earning money immediately but they also lose their college eligibility.
  • For college stars, NIL-based compensation could soon surpass six figures, while they also get the benefit of a college experience.
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