Top high school basketball player R.J. Hampton skips college to play professionally in New Zealand

R.J. Hampton surprised many by signing a deal with the New Zealand Breakers instead of playing in college. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
R.J. Hampton surprised many by signing a deal with the New Zealand Breakers instead of playing in college. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

R.J. Hampton, one of the top high school basketball players in the country, was expected to announce his college decision on Tuesday morning.

Instead, he took a different route.

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During a segment on ESPN’s “Get Up,” Hampton announced that he decided to play professionally in New Zealand instead of taking the more common “one-and-done” route. Hampton, a five-star recruit from Texas, recently announced three finalists: Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech. However, he has signed an undisclosed contract with the New Zealand Breakers, a team that plays in the National Basketball League, the professional league based out of Australia and New Zealand.

Hampton told Rivals.com that he feels like this decision will best prepare him for the 2020 NBA draft.

“I feel like this was the best opportunity for me to get ready for the NBA as quickly as possible because that is my ultimate goal,” he told Rivals.com. “I think that it is a safer route for players to go instead of going to college, in my opinion.”

A historic decision

Hampton, a 6-foot-5 guard, was originally a class of 2020 prospect but decided in April to jump up to 2019 in an effort to find better competition and get to the NBA a year sooner. A month later, he has landed on a different path altogether — one that has never been taken by a prospect of his ilk.

A few other American teenagers — like Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay, Terrance Ferguson and Brian Bowen — have gone overseas instead of spending a year in college, but all four faced eligibility questions. Hampton did not have those issues lingering over him. He simply wants to get a jump-start on his professional career without having to go through the charade of less than a year in college.

“I expect to get a whole pro experience without being in the NBA,” he told Rivals.com. “I want to live like a pro, play and prepare myself like one, too.”

Hampton is hoping to follow in Ferguson’s footsteps. Ferguson committed to Arizona out of high school but decided instead to play for the Adelaide 36ers. After one season in Australia, Ferguson was selected No. 21 overall in the 2017 NBA draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ferguson’s successful stint in the NBL resulted in the league starting a program called “Next Stars,” in an effort to attract more talented American prospects looking to bypass college for a professional career.

Bowen, who played for the Sydney Kings after his father was embroiled in the federal college basketball trial, was the first to enter the league via the Next Stars program. Hampton is the second.

‘One-and-done’ era nearing an end?

Players following this path could be the latest blow to the one-and-done rule that requires players to be 19 years or older, effectively forcing top-tier prospects to play in college for a year.

However, the rule is reportedly on the way out. Multiple outlets reported earlier this year that the draft-eligible age could be lowered to 18 by the 2022 draft. Once that comes to fruition, high school players can go straight to the NBA like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and others did before the rule change in 2006.

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