Answering the big college basketball questions after Jalen Green's decision

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Jalen Green, the No. 1 player in the ESPN 2020 recruiting rankings, announced on Thursday that he will forgo playing college basketball in order to join the NBA/G League pathway programnext season. Green's decision has implications for several college basketball programs, and there is a broader impact within the college game: Green will become the first No. 1 recruit to skip college basketball since Brandon Jennings did so in 2008. What does all this mean? We explored the related topics.

What does Jalen Green's decision to go straight to the professional ranks mean for college basketball? Is it fair to interpret the decision as an indictment of the college game?

I don't think it's necessarily an indictment of college basketball. Sure, college basketball would be better off and perhaps more exciting with the No. 1 recruit playing. But I think it says more about two things. One, the uncertainty with the 2020-21 college basketball season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Will there be a delayed start? Will colleges open on time in the fall? If Green committed to Memphis or Auburn and then ended up not playing next season or playing a shortened season, it could have been viewed as a wasted season.

Second, the G League is trying to become a legitimate option for elite prospects. The league is upping the money offered to elite prospects. It was $125,000 for the five-month season when the select-contract path was introduced in 2018, but now the money being mentioned for guys like Green is much more attractive for five months of basketball -- especially with the uncertainty of the college season.

What would have been the pros and cons of Green playing college basketball in 2020-21?

College basketball's biggest selling point is exposure and opportunity to build a brand. Zion Williamson turned into the biggest show in the sport during his time at Duke, Trae Young became a top-five pick at Oklahoma. Elite prospects that go to college are going to be on national TV 30-plus times a year from November until March, and then they're going to have the entire country watching them for three weeks in March. There's no bigger selling point to future stars than that. The cons are obvious, too: no money. Green wouldn't be able to make any money while he's in college. No salary, of course, but no sponsorships, no sneaker deals. The G League doesn't get the eyeballs that college basketball does, but it does have money to offer.

Are any other notable recruits considering skipping college basketball in 2020-21 to go straight to the professional ranks?

It's a growing trend. Emmanuel Mudiay made waves when he played in China in 2014, then Terrance Ferguson and Thon Maker skipped college in 2016. Anfernee Simons and Darius Bazley both did it in 2018, then LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton eschewed college basketball to play in Australia from the 2019 class. Jalen Lecque passed up one season at NC State to enter the NBA draft. And there is a handful of top-100 2020 prospects unlikely to play in college. In addition to Green, five-star forward Isaiah Todd decided earlier this week to decommit from Michigan and play professionally for a season. Most of the recent buzz centers on Todd playing in the G League. Fellow ESPN 100 prospects Makur Maker, MarJon Beauchamp and Kenyon Martin Jr. aren't expected to suit up in college next season, either.

The G League is expected to take some more swings at the 2020 class. In addition to Green and possibly Todd, rumors have circulated about Kentucky signee Terrence Clarke and Gonzaga signee Jalen Suggs. Clarke appeared to put those rumors to rest with a tweet on Wednesday morning, saying that "my loyalty never changed. I'm here to stay." Suggs' father told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, on Wednesday that "if somebody came up with something, we'd listen."

Memphis was considered the front-runner for Green, had he chosen to play college basketball. What does his decision mean for Penny Hardaway's program. What's the outlook for the Tigers?

It's a really tough hit for Hardaway and Memphis. The Tigers only have one commitment in the 2020 class, junior college forward Ahmad Rand. It's a far cry from their No. 1-ranked class in 2019. They had hopes of pairing Green and Greg Brown, the final remaining uncommitted top-10 prospect, but Brown seems poised to stay home and play for Texas next season.

The Tigers' dream 2019-20 season didn't play out as expected, with top recruit James Wiseman playing just three games and an NIT appearance looking likely as the season came to a premature end. And now Precious Achiuwa is likely to turn pro as opposed to returning to Memphis for his sophomore season. So Hardaway could end up losing his best player (or two, if you count Wiseman) from a team that was several spots from the NCAA tournament -- while not bringing in equal reinforcements.

The Tigers could make a renewed run at available point guard Karim Mane and they're also in the mix for transfers Matt Haarms, Landers Nolley, Ryan Betley and others, but Hardaway will have to hope his young team takes a big next step in 2020-21.

What other college programs are impacted by Green's decision? Auburn and Fresno State were among the others thought to be involved with Green.

Auburn seemed like the favorite for Green for several weeks in February and March, and the Tigers were dreaming of closing out the 2020 class with J.T. Thor, Green and Brown. Thor did commit to Auburn over Oklahoma State, but Green didn't follow and, as mentioned above, Texas seems like the favorite for Brown.

Bruce Pearl needs to revamp his roster heading into next season, as the Tigers lose their top six players off a 25-win team. He does have five-star point guard Sharife Cooper to go with Thor and a talented recruiting class, but he'll need more. Expect Auburn to get involved with some potential reclassification candidates, namely No. 1 junior Jonathan Kuminga.

Fresno State, the hometown school, was considered the sleeper for Green and even picked up a little momentum down the stretch. But the Bulldogs were always going to be a long shot and were planning for life without Green. They did land three transfers: DePaul grad transfer Devin Gage and sit-out transfers Deon Stroud (UTEP) and Isaiah Hill (Tulsa). They also lost talented freshman guard Jarred Hyder to transfer.

The 2021 class is widely expected to be the final 'one-and-done' class before the NBA alters its draft entry rules. Which players in the 2021 class could go the same route Green has and skip college basketball?

There's still a lot to play out in the 2021 class and the G League wouldn't have really honed in on targeting too many high school juniors just yet. But the top-five prospects in the class are Kuminga, Chet Holmgren, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Paolo Banchero and Jaden Hardy. It's likely the league would at least try to make a run at Kuminga if he decided to stay in 2021. Another name that could be a candidate to explore the option is top-10 forward Michael Foster.