Darius Bazley is a 6-foot-9 basketball prospect from the suburbs of Cincinnati. A consensus 5-star talent, selected to the Jordan Brand Classic and 2018 McDonald’s All-American, Bazley was committed to being the latest in a line of talented athletes to play for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University. However, the Orange and the basketball community as a whole were shocked when Bazley announced his signing with Klutch Sports agent Rich Paul and subsequent retraction from Syracuse. While many believed he would take his talents to the G-League, both Paul and Bazley decided that “interning” with New Balance would be more valuable for him to develop on the court and as a businessman.
Marc Stein of the New York Times investigates the reasons behind the move and some of the potential pitfalls that may face Bazley by deciding to take an unconventional route to the 2019 NBA Draft in his article A New Option for N.B.A. Prospects: The Million-Dollar Intern. As you can deduce from the title Bazley’s internship includes a $1 million signing bonus, with $14 million in incentives if Bazley can meet certain performance standards. Certainly more than I’ve ever earned during my internships but I guess you can’t put a price on good learning experiences.
In January, Bazley will start at New Balance, where, according to Stein’s reporting, “he is expected to spend time with New Balance’s marketing department, digital and social teams and footwear and apparel design arms and the company’s sports laboratory.” The three month internship will expose Bazley to the daily business operations for the global shoe and apparel company as they begin campaigns to re-establish their influence within the basketball community. The Boston-based company will try to mirror the success of Puma who made waves during last year’s draft when they were able to sign top picks DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Zhaire Smith, and Kevin Knox to multi-year deals. With Gordon Hayward on an expiring shoe contract and Matt Bonner leaving for rival Adidas in 2014, they are looking to add fresh persona to attract a younger base.
The move is not without critique, while athletic and lengthy wing players are ideal pieces for NBA teams, Bazley’s does not have the physical build just yet. One of the factors that kept Paul from having his client sign for a G-League team was that his lack of physicality which could hurt his draft potential. Mock Drafts currently have him slipping to the second round but Paul is hopeful that workouts with Memphis Grizzlies assistant Mike Miller will help keep him on Draft Boards and “a business that actually aligns with his interests way more than taking History 101” — and put him in an environment NBA teams can tap into for character study, will show his maturity as a representative of the NBA off the court.
Stein’s interview with Jim Boeheim reveals that while he rooting for Bazley, he is skeptical that forgoing the norm will help his chances of getting to the NBA. “He needs to work in a weight room and eat right for a year.” The other challenge for Paul is keeping Bazley name is the heads of scouts. At Syracuse, Bazely would have had the opportunity to showcase his talent against his direct competition in one of the most competitive Conferences in College Basketball the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange are ranked 16th in preseason polls, and will have numerous prime-time games against the likes of Duke, Clemson, UNC etc… which would have help elevate his draft stature. But his earning potential would suffer since College Athletes definitely do not get paid to play at certain schools.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and the Players’ Association does not allow athletes to join the NBA after high school graduation, instead they are required to wait one year in which they can go to college, overseas, or the newly rebranded G-League, where top athletes can earn $125,000 for a one-year deal before the NBA draft. Paul explains the importance of the New Balance deal to Stein: “In this industry, there haven’t been a lot of options for these kids and their families. More people would challenge the system, but there hasn’t been a real success story yet. Darius has an opportunity to be that success story,” Paul will be invested in Bazley’s development over the next year and hopeful that he will be able to offer similar deals with top high school prospects until the talks of removing the “One-and-Done” rule continue in 2023 when the NBA CBA expires.