5-star target R.J. Hampton passes on KU to head overseas

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Kansas University basketball recruiting

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

After a handful of college visits and weeks of breaking down the few programs on his list of finalists, 5-star prep prospect R.J. Hampton has decided to turn pro.

No, Hampton has not found a loophole in the NBA’s age restriction. Instead, the 6-foot-5 guard from Little Elm, Texas, ranked No. 6 overall in the 2019 class by Rivals.com will be heading to the other side of the world to play at least one season of professional basketball with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League.

Hampton announced his decision on live television Tuesday morning with Jalen Rose and Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s morning show, “Get Up!”

Hampton, who later in the day during various interviews said Kansas would have been the choice if he had elected to go to college, chose a short-term deal in New Zealand, which sources told the Journal-World could be worth as much as seven figures, over attending one of his finalists, Kansas, Memphis or Texas Tech.

“The Breakers have always been a team that’s punched above our weight, and we feel we’re ready to take the next step,” said team owner Matt Walsh in a news release hinting at an “exciting announcement” from the franchise.

As it turned out, that announcement came from Hampton and that punching had to do with paying one of the top prep prospects in the United States unprecedented money.

Hampton's move will likely be for one season. According to the latest future mock drafts, he is projected to be the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Asked why he decided on this route instead of the traditional route of joining a big time college program, Hampton said, “My dream has never been to play college basketball, my dream has been to get to the next level and to play in the NBA so I think this was the best route for me, to live like a pro and play against grown men every day and not kind of have to juggle books and basketball and just focus on my main goal.”

Hampton, whose family will join him in moving to New Zealand, becomes the first highly ranked prep player to pick pro ball overseas over college — though some, like Terrance Ferguson or Brandon Jennings, have been forced to take that route because of academics or suspensions, as was the case with former Louisville signee Brian Bowen II, who missed out on his freshman season of college and instead played last season with the Sydney Kings.

Hampton's move comes in contrast to the path taken by Duke star Zion Williamson, who spent his one season of waiting for the NBA Draft at Duke, where he became a household name and is the easy choice to become the No. 1 overall pick in the June 20 draft.

“What this avenue is for R.J. is a chance to get paid as a professional with a team that’s willing to develop him as a player," ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla, well versed in all things international basketball, told the Journal-World shortly after Hampton's announcement. "He’ll play in a league with men that has a lot of former NCAA college stars, some former NBA players and Australian professional players and it’s a good league. It’s not the best league in the world by any stretch. R.J could not play at the highest level in the Euro League right now next year. He would be like Brandon Jennings, who sat on the bench basically.”

Regardless, Hampton believes that skipping college will make him more NBA-ready when he does finally get there.

“I feel like once I get to the next level, it’s going to prepare me for all the other steps in life," Hampton said of getting a jump-start on his professional career. "You’re a pro now, you have to be a grown man, there might be a 27, 28-year-old on the team with a family. So you just have to live like a pro and act like a pro.”

On Tuesday morning's show, Greenberg pointed out that the move for Hampton was not an academic issue like that of current NBA players Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay and Terrance Ferguson, who spent a year overseas after high school because of their grades. Greenberg said Hampton's GPA was 3.7 and that he got a 1280 on his SAT.

There was more than Hampton's desire to put the books and classes behind him that contributed to this decision.

"I just wanted to kind of set the trend," Hampton said. "I’ve never wanted to be normal, so I kind of wanted to set the trend for younger guys coming up to show them, hey, this is not the only route you can take, college basketball. And I feel like this is a much better route for me. (It’s) not for everybody, but I think it’s a better route for me.”

Said Rose, who later admitted that he would not have looked at this option when he was coming out of high school and heading to Michigan, simply because he lacked the maturity needed to make such a move: "First of all I want to commend you on your maturity. … It takes courage to do something out of the norm.”

Thus ends one of the most highly visible recruiting battles in recent memory at Kansas. Far bigger than last year's pursuit of Romeo Langford who ultimately picked Indiana and now is headed to the NBA Draft. And given the fact that Hampton reclassified from the 2020 class into the 2019 class only to forego college altogether, it was bigger even than KU's pursuit of Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson and others like them.

What's more, it could go down as a landmark day for those types of talents in the future.

"It could be the beginning of a new era in sports," Greenberg said signing off.

Added co-host Jay Williams of Hampton's groundbreaking decision: “I commend him because I think other kids should be looking at that option.”