Elite 18-year-old basketball players will soon have an alternative to playing a “one-and-done” year at college. The N.B.A. announced Thursday that beginning next year, select players would be allowed to play in the G League, the N.B.A.’s development league, for a year, and would earn $125,000 for the season.
After several years of players going straight from high school to the N.B.A., including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James but also some busts, the N.B.A. in 2005 began mandating a 19-year-old minimum age.
After the rule was in place, the vast majority of talented high-schoolers chose to enter the N.C.A.A. ranks, then usually declared for the draft after only a year.
Eight of the top nine picks in this summer’s draft went to only one year of college. Many of those players, like Marvin Bagley III of Duke and Trae Young of Oklahoma, might well have chosen the G league as an alternative.
The N.B.A.’s new program was first reported by ESPN.
The N.B.A. promised that players would receive training in basketball as well as “life skills” as part of the program. It did not disclose how many players would be invited into the program, but the G League said it would be “a very specific group of elite players.”
As professionals, those players would also be able to accept endorsement money, something they could not do as amateurs in college.
It was not yet known how the players would be assigned to G League teams, but regardless of which team they were on, they would be eligible for the next year’s draft and could wind up with any N.B.A. team.
The unexpected result of the 19-year-old age limit has been the prevalence of the “one and done” player. While some college basketball fans and coaches appreciated the chance to see top stars at least for one year, others rued the transitory nature of the players’ stays on campus.
“We appreciate the N.B.A.’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally,” Mark Emmert, the president of the N.C.A.A., said in a statement on Thursday. “Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”
The G League has 27 teams in mostly smaller cities, affiliated with N.B.A. teams. They play in front of mostly small crowds with players who for the most part will only be N.B.A. journeymen at best. The new plan would increase attention for the league.
The G League players tend to be in their mid-20s and make significantly less than the $125,000 a year being offered to the elite 18-year-olds, often as little as $35,000. Those that are called up to the N.B.A. can earn more. The elite 18-year-olds in the G League will not be eligible to be called up.
Players in the N.B.A., of course, can earn millions of dollars. DeAndre Ayton, who spent one year at Arizona before being drafted No. 1 over all, will earn more than $8 million this season.
N.B.A. players have been critical of the “one and done” rule, saying it unfairly prevents players with the ability for the N.B.A. from earning income.
Condoleezza Rice, chairwoman of the Commission on College Basketball, said this spring that the one-and-done rule should go.
A few players, including Brandon Jennings, have opted to play overseas rather than spend a year in college. LaVar Ball, the father of the Lakers player Lonzo Ball, started the Junior Basketball Association to provide another alternative for these players.
The first class eligible for the program includes current high school stars like Anthony Edwards of Atlanta and Jaden McDaniels of Washington State. A few of them have selected a college but many are still uncommitted.
Players like that may soon be canceling their visits to Duke and Kentucky, and instead be plying their trade for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants or the Capital City Go-Go.