ATLANTA — McDonald’s All American and Syracuse commit Darius Bazley — a projected top-10 selection in the 2019 NBA draft — has decided to turn professional and plans to sign in the NBA G League, Bazley told Yahoo Sports.
Bazley, 17, told Yahoo Sports he has decommitted from Syracuse and will play in the G League after discussing several options with his mother, Lynnita Bazley, close family members and Princeton (Cincinnati) High School coach Steve Wright. Several players have set a trend of leaving collegiate commitments to play overseas, but Bazley’s decision to bypass the one-and-done format for the G League is unprecedented.
“This is a life-changing decision,” Bazley, one of the top players in the Class of 2018, told Yahoo Sports. “I put a lot of thinking into this with my mom and close circle, especially sitting down with her. It’s just like making the decision to which college you want to go to. Me and her did some talking, and I prayed on it. I talked to my high school coach, Steve, who played overseas, and then I talked to a couple of guys in the G League who have experience. Ultimately, playing professional basketball has always been my dream. It’s always going to be the dream goal, always going to be the goal until I achieve it. This is going to put me one step closer to doing so.
“The G League will have the most to offer, considering that is the development league for the NBA,” he continued. “I will get more out of that than going overseas. The G League is the closest thing to the NBA. I see most guys now are spending time in the G League even after they went to school and the draft, so this gives me the chance to accelerate the process. There have been a lot of successful guys who have been brought up in the G League, and I’m confident that I will be one of them.
“I’m self-motivated because I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is how I want to make a living. This is how I want to provide for my family, and provide for my love of basketball. I’m not playing any games with this. I’m attacking this straight forward. I’m not maneuvering around this, take any side steps. I’m taking this head on. This is the decision that I made, and I know it will work. I know what I’m capable of doing, and I’m going to do just that.”
Bazley committed to Syracuse in 2017 and had a strong performance in the McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday night in Atlanta, posting 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists and showing activity on both ends of the court. In April, Bazley will participate in the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. All three are landmark events for Bazley entering a critical summer.
NBA executives believe he can be one of the best players in the 2019 draft. At 6-foot-9, Bazley has the potential to be a dynamic playmaker, ball-handler in the open floor and defensive force. Bazley turns 18 in June and will then be eligible to formally sign a G League contract in September and enter the league’s annual draft in October. Bazley’s rights will not belong with an NBA team until he’s selected in the 2019 NBA draft.
Family and friends rave about Bazley’s maturity and calm, believing if there is someone capable of this journey, it’s him. Bazley nods his head and makes it clear: He relishes the pressure the decision will bring.
“This all relies and falls back on me, and that’s another reason why I decided on this,” Bazley told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no room for error here. I can’t be screwing around. I want just that. I want this challenge and I know that I’m going to overcome it. As far as maturity-wise, I believe I am as mature as they come, if not more mature, than guys that are in the G League and some guys in the NBA. There’s no screwing around.
“I’m not a party person. I literally hang out with friends at home or I’m in the gym. Guys who I surround myself with are all basketball players. We all have the same goals in mind: going to the NBA, going to college. I’m hanging with people with the same mindsets, same goals as me, so that way there are no slip-ups. I try to be as self-disciplined as possible.
“I go back to how I was raised by my mom. My high school coach and my mom have helped me realize the big picture, and that is getting to the NBA. If I want to do so, there has to be a level of professionalism that I have to maintain and have to show. I’ve developed that over the years. I’m not saying that I’m perfect and I’m LeBron James, but I’m not the typical 17-year-old high school kid who wants to trip out with his friend. I know what I want in my life, and with this route I’m going to get it.”
When Lynnita Bazley first became aware of her son considering decommitting from Syracuse for the G League, she acknowledged she had her reservations. The family sat down, laid out the positives and negatives, and then left the decision to Darius.
“It’s not heard of leaving school to go to the G League and going to the NBA,” Lynnita Bazley told Yahoo Sports. “This is history in the making, and this could open up the doors for so many people behind him, which is a good thing. I will always encourage my kids to make history, to be the best that they can be, and don’t forget about those who are coming behind you. This could be a very huge success story and I’m willing to go for it. I’m always going to be by his side, pass or fail.
“For his decision to not go to college right now, people go to college because they want to be something. Doctors go to college, they go to medical school. Lawyers go to law school. They go to school for a reason. So if your reason is to make it to the NBA, but there is a better alternative, by all means … if you believe in yourself, if everyone around you is backing you, go for it.”
After playing collegiately at Bowling Green and a standout season at Northern Kentucky, Wright had a pro career in the top league in Germany, France and Finland and then transitioned into coaching, running successful high school programs in Ohio. Their close relationship allowed Wright and Bazley — whom the coach says is also a strong student with a 3.0 grade-point average — to share honest conversations about the pro game abroad, and when Bazley approached Wright with his desire to play in the G League, they weighed the pros and cons and Bazley made his decision.
“Being in the United States rather than being overseas, and playing against guys in the NBA and in front of NBA GMs, getting the proper training and the right foods to play in the league — that’s the difference,” Wright told Yahoo Sports. “I preach it to my high school kids, and Darius is the same: be professional at all times. He’s conducting himself as a professional in and out of basketball.
”In the G League, you’re playing against real hungry players in the NBA, and he’s going to be really young and have to bring it. Guys who had strong college careers, trying to get to where you want to, you have to be consistent. It’s nothing that he hasn’t been through. Darius cares about his teammates, about wins and losses and people around the community. There’s nothing wrong with having a chip on your shoulder and having that confidence of a typical 17 year old.”
Bazley is making a major jump now, and he says he is prepared for the challenges ahead.
“I’ll be around NBA games, focus on my body and focus on my development 24/7,” Bazley told Yahoo Sports. “Without having to worry about anything else — this is strictly basketball. That’s what I want.”
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