Latavious Williams, a nationwide top 20 high school player according to Rivals.com, was in a rut last year. The Mississippi project signed a letter of intent to play for Josh Pastner at Memphis. Then NCAA academic eligibility issues arose over questionable credits accrued during an extra year in prep school. His situation meant that, despite his desire to play in college, he wouldn’t be able to suit up well into the season at the earliest. This came as a cause of concern as he planned to hit the ground running, then hit the pros ASAP. Ultimately, it lead to his family and agent exploring other avenues towards the NBA.
According to SLAM, Williams eyed six figure deals from teams throughout Europe and China. At that point, you’d think his choice was simple. Why wait around for the NCAA when you could bag a hefty deal across the pond? Contract talks went sour and the exact opposite happened. Without any other viable options, Williams became the first high school player ever selected in the NBDL draft after wowing scouts at a workout session. Now, he has a shot at getting into the league after a year with the Tulsa 66ers. Arguably, that goal wasn’t in reach had he braved the NCAA or elsewhere.
I think it’s a good move considering the circumstances and helps promote the often overlooked D-League. The NBDL, while frowned upon, has produced success stories like Kelenna Azubuike and Matt Barnes. More & more players are using it as a way to establish professional careers every year as each team is affiliated with an NBA counterpart. It may not be as large or organized as minor league baseball, where there are leagues set up for rookies and high school draftees. Nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity for a prospect like Latavious to mature, expand his skill set at a semi pro level and cultivate his raw athletic ability all while staying in the USA.
He’s not setting the world on fire averaging 5 points, 6 boards and a block in 16 minutes per game. But he’s getting into the mindset of a pro ball player in a 50 + game season. He could have been more underdeveloped with a late start had he braved the NCAA. Moreover, even the NCAA’s best coaching staffs have a penchant to worry about getting wins and keeping their jobs rather than bettering talent on their roster (Duke anyone?). With that said, the NCAA is still the most tried and tested route to the NBA and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon, especially with the NBA’s arbitrary age eligibility rule.
Additionally, one has to wonder if going overseas will become a viable second option for future high school standouts. Brandon Jennings, last year’s top high school player, made waves when he signed to Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in Italy because he failed to pass Arizona’s entrance exam. He gained $3 Million USD last year between his contract and endorsement deal with Under Armour. Meanwhile NBDL players usually make between $12,000 to $24,000 a year. It’s not like he played against bums out there either as he put up less than stellar numbers. People seem to forget that the number of international players, especially those from Europe, are steadily growing in the NBA. Even more are capable but get held back by the fine print of their deals. So even though Jennings struggled he used that experience to become a runaway pick for rookie of the year in Milwaukee.
We can’t quite call the Latavious Experiment a success yet as it’s still in progress. But from the looks of things he’s eager to learn and bonding well with his teammates all while playing at an level of competition above college ball. Scouts are keeping an eye on him despite his off-putting size at 6’8” and 205 lbs. Most importantly, he has a shot at being picked based on his capability to be an athletic 4 with some range to boot. I’m not holding my breath for a NBDL renaissance via 18 and 19-year-olds as long as the NCAA and Europe are around. Then again, if Latavious makes the draft board in June, I wouldn’t be surprised if more high schoolers traveled the same trail he blazed for them.