Thierry Darlan, a 6-foot-7 point guard from the NBA Academy Africa in Senegal, told ESPN he has committed to the G League Ignite over a host of college offers.
"I believe that Ignite is the best choice for me," Darlan said. "I think that I can develop to become a much better player, and I believe Ignite is the best place for me to do that. Many NCAA programs called me. I'm thankful for their interest, but I think my game is more fit to a pro game than a college game."
The 19-year-old native of Central African Republic was one of the most highly sought after international prospects in his high school class, drawing scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Kansas, Santa Clara and others. He ultimately picked G League Ignite, the NBA's alternative pathway to college basketball, which started in 2021 and has had six players drafted already, with at least another three more projected to be picked this June, headlined by projected No. 2 pick Scoot Henderson. Darlan is one of four projected draft picks committed to Ignite's roster for next season, joining potential No. 1 pick Matas Buzelis along with first round candidates London Johnson and Babacar Sane.
"I was honored that [G League Ignite head coach] Jason Hart and [G League President] Shareef Abdur-Rahim made a trip to Senegal to watch our Academy practices. It meant a lot to me. I watched many Ignite games and I like their style of play. They are encouraging me to reach my goals, and I also enjoy being in an environment where people are not afraid to shoot for the stars."
Darlan boasts a 7-foot-1 wingspan and robust 195-pound frame that gives him significant potential as a big point guard when paired with his impressive playmaking, shot-making prowess and defensive versatility. He drew a large crowd of NBA executives to scout him at two exhibition games the NBA Academy conducted during the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas in December, as well as the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global camp during All-Star weekend.
Darlan has already represented Central African Republic at the FIBA level with their senior national team, excelling in several World Cup qualifying games last summer. He also spent time with Petro De Luanda of the NBA's Basketball Africa League (BAL) last spring as part of the BAL Elevate program, which sent 12 NBA Academy Africa players to each of the BAL teams and will continue when the 2023 BAL season tips next weekend in Dakar, Senegal. Darlan's team from Angola lost in the championship of the BAL to US Monastir from Tunisia. Darlan, who some NBA scouts consider to be the best African-born guard prospect to ever come out of the continent, has received an invitation to the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit in Portland next month, an annual showcase between the top high school senior prospects in the United States and a collection of elite international players from around the globe. A recent ankle dislocation injury he suffered at the BWB camp in Salt Lake City may prevent him from playing at the event, though.
Darlan is technically eligible to enter the 2023 NBA Draft as an international player who has already turned 19-years old, but is likely to wait until the 2024 NBA draft, a source told ESPN.
Darlan is yet another in a line of NBA Academy graduates utilizing the different platforms the NBA is increasingly offering young players as a pathway to their league. He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of NBA Global Academy alum Dyson Daniels, who joined the G League Ignite program out of Australia and ultimately became a top-10 draft pick after one season in the program. Darlan told ESPN he is in no rush currently to decide on his future and, like Daniels, sees his versatility as an asset that will allow him to play different positions with G League Ignite next season.
"Ultimately the plan is to get to the NBA, but I will follow the lead of the G League Ignite coaching staff. At NBA Academy Africa, I first started as a shooting guard and then I was shifted to the point guard position. I think I'm able to play both and I'm not afraid to continue to learn and try new things. I'm good with whatever the coach asks me to do. I'm also going day by day, trying to become better each and every day. I'm not thinking about staying a year or more. I'm only thinking about my next practice or my next game and it has to be better than the last one."
G League Ignite currently has three NBA Academy alum on their roster this season in Efe Abogidi from Nigeria, Mojave King from Australia and Babacar Sane from Senegal. Sane, a projected first round pick in 2024, was teammates with Darlan at the NBA Academy Africa up until recently and is in the first year of a two-year pathway at Ignite that will allow him to reunite with Darlan this upcoming season.
Darlan says moving from the NBA Academy Africa to G League Ignite with stopovers in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders camps and BAL program is a natural progression for him and others.
"I see it as a blessing. The NBA is like a family that takes great care of their children. I'm very grateful for everything they have done for me from the moment I was recruited until this day. I definitely trust them to guide me in the next few years as they did before. I'm also very inspired by all the work they are doing in Africa."
The NBA currently has four academies; in Delhi, India, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and Saly, Senegal; as well as its Global Academy, which serves as the hub for elite prospects in Canberra, Australia. Three academies that were previously operational in China have closed.
NBA Academy alumnus Josh Giddey was the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, while Bennedict Mathurin and Daniels were selected sixth and eighth, respectively, in the 2022 NBA draft.
Darlan is one of several NBA Academy Africa graduates attempting to become the first player drafted, along with Abogidi, Ugonna Onyenso (Kentucky), Joshua Ojianwuna (Baylor) and several others currently still with the program.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.