RJ Hampton, the No. 5 prospect in the ESPN 100 class of 2019, has signed a contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League, he announced on ESPN's Get Up on Tuesday.
Hampton becomes the first American player to willingly forgo college for playing international basketball, unlike players such as Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay and Terrance Ferguson, who signed overseas amid concerns regarding their academic or amateur status.
"My No. 1 goal is to play in the NBA," Hampton told ESPN. "I wanted to be an NBA player before I ever wanted to be a college player. This is about getting ready for the next level faster and more efficiently.
"Both of my parents went to college. My mom got her master's degree. Education is a big thing in our family, but this is about focusing 100 percent on basketball. You can always go back to college, but there's only a short window as an athlete where you can play professional basketball, and I want to take advantage of that. I think that challenging yourself on a daily basis is the best way to improve."
Hampton's move comes as a surprise after he cut his college recruitment list in recent days to Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech. He had also previously considered scholarship offers from Duke, Kentucky and others.
Hampton is currently projected as the No. 6 pick in the ESPN 2020 mock draft. His positional size at 6-foot-5 and 188 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan -- as well as his creativity changing speeds, operating out of pick-and-rolls and finding teammates on the move -- gives him potentially the highest upside of any guard in the class. He will likely be scouted heavily by NBA executives all season in the Australian NBL, as he is expected to play a featured role with the Breakers. The team has won four league titles in the past nine years and is partially owned by four-time NBA All-Star Shawn Marion, as well as ex-Florida player Matt Walsh, who spent time with the Miami Heat.
"Signing a player of RJ's caliber is a monumental undertaking that we don't take lightly at the Breakers," Walsh told ESPN. "His family has entrusted us with their son spending one of the most important years in his development in New Zealand, and we are going to do everything we can as an organization to ensure that he reaches his goal of being a high draft pick and prepare him as best as we can to come in ready to make an impact in the NBA."
Hampton, who lives in Dallas, told ESPN that watching international basketball phenom Luka Doncic with the Mavericks this season helped him realize the merits of exploring alternative development paths.
"Luka Doncic is one of my favorite players to watch," Hampton told ESPN. "I started following him two years before he was drafted and watched at least 10 games of his this season. Seeing how he came into the NBA and being arguably the best rookie in the NBA shows you that you don't have to go to college to be successful. Playing professionally against men helped him get to where he is now. He's not the fastest or most athletic guy, but he gets where he wants on the floor and reads defenses better than almost any player in the NBA."
Hampton's signing into the NBL on a multiyear deal, with NBA out clauses, is a major boon to the league. The groundwork for this move was laid by Ferguson opting not to go to college at Arizona to sign with Adelaide, and eventually becoming the No. 21 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. That caused the NBL to launch the "Next Stars" program last year to attract more players in Ferguson's mold. Hampton will not count against the New Zealand Breakers' league-mandated quota of three import players, and he will also have part of his salary subsidized by the NBL.
"The NBL is looking to do this more and more now with players in my situation," Hampton told ESPN. "I'm being put in a situation that is centered around me being successful and accomplishing my dream of getting to the next level. The Breakers were the best team for me. Their owners played in the NBA, and they told me their goal is to help me have a great experience in New Zealand and ultimately a great career in the NBA. The fact that I'll be able to play two preseason games against NBA teams in October was very attractive. I'll be able to get a little taste of the atmosphere and how NBA games are played, which should expedite my development."
Hampton's agent, Happy Walters, has experience with placing draft prospects in the NBL, as he represented Ferguson in 2017 when he signed with Adelaide. Hampton will now automatically become eligible for the 2020 NBA draft due to signing a professional contract out of an American high school.
"I think RJ is well-equipped to succeed in the NBL because he views it as a learning process in his ultimate step to becoming a star in the NBA," Walters told ESPN. "He understands that statistics don't matter when NBA teams consider prospects. Talent, mental toughness and upside are the key factors. Playing professional basketball as an 18-year-old will enable this development."
The CEO of the NBL, Jeremy Loeliger, told ESPN that he is hopeful that Hampton's signing will attract other elite prospects to consider spending a year or more in Australia or New Zealand before taking the next step to the NBA.
"We are delighted that RJ has chosen to spend the season with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL as part of the Next Stars program and look forward to watching him develop on his way to a career in the NBA," Loeliger told ESPN. "The Next Stars program offers young athletes an alternative pathway to the NBA if they don't want to go to college. We want to play a part in making these young men the best that they can be in preparation for the NBA draft. The NBL is a world-class league and a great way to launch a professional career. Having a player of RJ's caliber join will help attract other players and bring the league and other players to the attention of NBA scouts."