Basketball Prospect R.J. Hampton Just Made a Game-Changing Decision

The playmaker delivered some surprising news about his basketball future. Will it change the sport?

rj hampton mobile hero imaeg
Elsa/Getty Images

R.J. Hampton is a playmaking point guard from Dallas who many recruiting insiders have ranked in the top six of his graduating class. Until Tuesday, Hampton was the highest-ranked unsigned prospect, meaning he hadn’t announced where he would play college basketball.

But then Hampton summoned us to the national broadcast of ESPN’s morning highlights program, Get Up, billed as an announcement about his future. He had narrowed his list to Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech—his dad even gave an interview evaluating the three programs and what benefits they offered his son. 

However, Hampton announced that he wouldn’t be attending college at all.

Instead, Hampton is signing with the New Zealand Breakers, a team in Australia’s pro league, the NBL. While it’s a surprising decision—especially to college basketball fans who’ve awaited Hampton’s potential college choice all spring—it’s not unprecedented. Brandon Jennings skipped college to turn pro in Italy, and Hampton will follow in the footsteps of OKC forward Terrance Ferguson, who had a sojourn in the NBL with the Adelaide 36ers. As the business of basketball keeps growing, seeking pro opportunities abroad is something more and more top-level prospects are considering.

What’s different about Hampton is that he’s the highest-profile prospect yet to skip college and play abroad until he turns 19, when he can then enter the NBA draft. (Jalen Lecque, a high schooler who is entering the NBA draft, is already 19.) Some journalists have questioned the move in terms of branding: By playing at Duke, Zion Williamson became a household name and raised college basketball’s profile for the year that he was in college. 

Though concerns about NBL viewership in the U.S. are extremely valid, Barstool Sports has a small stake in the Breakers, and whether that creates some media value for Hampton is TBD. Hampton is looking at six figures and an opportunity to work full-time on his game in an English-speaking country, perhaps dulling the learning curve a little bit. 

For college sports fans, it’s a disappointment to see foreign leagues poach America’s most talented prospects. But financial inequities in college sports have made this sort of news inevitable. Hampton took the offer that was best for his playing career, and he’ll be eligible for the NBA draft next year. But it’s a problem for college basketball, one that’s only going to get louder and louder as more prospects follow Hampton’s lead. 

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down