NBA agent and Klutch Sports co-founder Rich Paul called the choice of top prospect Darius Bazley to forgo college and opt for a $1 million shoe-company internship the product of a broken system, saying Wednesday that the on-court component of the next seven months was "the one thing that we were missing."
Bazley, ranked the No. 13 prospect in 2018 by ESPN, decommitted from Syracuse in March and said he planned to play in the NBA's G League. This week, he again changed course, landing a first-of-its-kind three-month job with New Balance, a deal Paul brokered.
Paul, speaking in an appearance on ESPN's The Jump, said he wasn't sure the move would start a trend but did think it was a pioneering leap out of an institutionalized process that needed to change.
"And until that happens, they need options," Paul said.
Paul said Bazley was part of a system people in authority have "been able to control for a long time."
"And when you're a threat to that system, they don't like that," Paul said.
Bazley, a 6-foot-8 forward from Ohio, will enter the 2019 NBA draft, Paul said. Bazley had been poised to be the first five-star prospect to skip college for the G League, after several players have gone the overseas route. Like most high school players, Bazley was ineligible for the 2018 NBA draft because he's not one year removed from his graduating class. In the past, if a player was ruled ineligible for college or wanted to skip college, he generally went overseas, as Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay and Terrance Ferguson did.
Bazley will be paid a $200,000 base salary annually over five years, assuming he is on an NBA roster in the second year and in the league each season thereafter. Paul earlier this week told The New York Times that the internship was part of a multiyear shoe contract that could pay Bazley up to $14 million if he reaches performance incentives written into the contract.
"Darius is a very, very different kid," Paul told The Jump. "His mom and him came to me, and they wanted advice. ... The main thing for me was just trying to find out the best way for Darius to spend his time since he was not going to college. And New Balance is a very fearless, independent brand, and what they represent aligned directly with who Darius Bazley is and what he wanted to do."
The slender Bazley, who was listed at 195 pounds in high school, also will work on his strength and skills in the run-up to the draft. In an interview with The Times, he called the move "my risk."
"For who he is," Paul said, "regardless of what happens in the rest of his life, he'll have a head start. He'll know more about the business around the game than anybody in his class based upon what he'll learn."
But Paul said the on-court component remained uncertain.
"It's tough to find runs, right?" Paul said of pickup games. "So, he has an unbelievable skill set. But he needs to play. He's going to train on the court, obviously find pickup games here and there. But the way this goes, we're here in October and tomorrow we're in March. It goes like that.
"So any rookie that comes into our league, it still takes time for them to develop. So he has a skill set that you -- he's 6-9½ with a guard skill set. And again, the challenge would be the actual play part. And that's OK; he's accepting that. I tell him all the time -- we just talked this morning -- 'Even if you have to play one-on-one, one-on-none to work on certain things, that's what we have to do.' But I'm not going to throw him out there with just anybody and have him play. That's not going to happen."
Bazley's move won't come without controversy.
On Wednesday, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim -- who later tweeted he wished Bazley the best and even called Paul to apologize -- told Stadium's Jeff Goodman, "LeBron did a nice job helping his client. It is LeBron's client, right?"
James was quick to respond via social media.
OH THEY BIG MAD!!!!! 🤣🤣🤣 https://t.co/DP2bGAeWq8— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 24, 2018
Paul said he wasn't certain whether more players would follow Bazley's path.
"It's not for everybody, so I'm not going to sit here and say anyone should follow this path," Paul said. "This was just the right path for Darius Bazley. This is the right path for Darius Bazley and his family. It takes a collective group of people; his mom was very understanding and willing to allow me to advise them as a family. And the parents are important in this, as well. It's not just me. The parents are very important. And you have to work together with families to help them understand why this is important."
Paul said the college route is "the right thing" for most players.
"Because you need to learn how to play the game," Paul said. "And you need to learn how to mature as a man."
New Balance hasn't marketed basketball shoes since the 1990s. Bazley, who decided not to play in the development league, is the first athlete signed to promote the company's reentry into the basketball shoe market. Paul said Bazley would start the three-month position in January and work out of Boston.
"They wanted to be able to tell his story and to tell it the right way," Paul said of New Balance. "For me, I don't have a platform for NBA scouts to reach out and call and say, 'Well, what's his character like? How's he doing in class?'
"And so, I presented to him," Paul said. "I said, 'Let's do this deal, but while doing this deal, let's implement this into the deal.' And so he's going to be an intern. He starts in January; it's for three months. He'll be in Boston. He'll work out and train there. And he's able to learn a business that actually aligns with what he likes. He'll learn what goes into making a shoe. He'll learn about a storyboard -- why they picked a certain athlete that they pick. And so -- rollout plan, how to execute it."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.