In a little over 24 hours Jalen Duren will announce a final decision from five possible destinations for his immediate basketball future. The class of 2022 (but really 2021) superstar is down to the University of Kentucky, the University of Memphis and the University of Miami should he choose the college route, or lucrative professional offers from both the NBA G League and the National Basketball League in Australia.
There was a time when college wasn’t a realistic option for the No. 1 center in high school basketball, but the recent Name, Image, Likeness legislation shifted things back toward a year in college for the projected top-five pick in next summer’s draft.
“The NIL leveled the playing field,” Duren told On3, who says he will pick the opportunity that will develop him the most on and off the court.
A tough decision, Duren kept everything quiet throughout his entire recruitment and no one seems to know what he will announce Friday evening, or if Duren even knows on the eve of his big day.
I’m here to help though with some Pros and Cons of each of Duren’s five possible destinations.
— One of the biggest selling points for any of the options on Duren’s list, Kentucky has John Calipari, the undisputed GOAT of getting college basketball players to the league with a quickness. Calipari’s Kentucky has been an NBA training ground since he and the UK program put five players in the first round in 2009, Calipari’s first year on the job. Overall, Calipari recruited and developed three No. 1 overall picks, 32 first-round picks, 21 lottery picks and 43 total players in the NBA Draft out of Kentucky to date. No other program is even close. Dufflebag Duke can’t even keep up. For a player with top pick aspirations like Duren, there is no better road to success than a year with John Calipari in Lexington, where the end goal isn’t to play professionally, it’s to be the next max contract superstar. (UK added a new one to that list a few days ago.)
— To that point, Calipari has had the most success with frontcourt talents like Duren. Look at Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, PJ Washington… the list goes on.
— With all due respect to the excitement around Mark Stoops’ football team (and with absolutely no respect to Louisville athletics), Kentucky Basketball is the show in the Bluegrass. There are no pro teams to share the stage with, no other competition for fan interest. UK Basketball is life throughout the entire state, and now that passion can be monetized through N.I.L. opportunities. I don’t think it’s crazy to project upwards of a million dollars in earnings for a player like Duren, especially in the early days of N.I.L. when businesses are throwing money around to see what works. Then there are the autograph signings (you wouldn’t believe what Anthony Davis made in 2012), merchandise opportunities and several other ways to earn a buck from the fans who will undoubtedly be thrilled to see a talent like Duren, especially after the product that took the court last year and other recent recruiting misses. His N.I.L. pockets will stay full.
— Money aside, Big Blue Nation is the most passionate fan base in college basketball, maybe in all of sports, and Duren will feel the love from the moment he steps on campus through every phase of his professional career and beyond. Duren will have fans wherever he goes this fall, but he won’t feel the love like he will at Kentucky. There’s a connection unlike anywhere else—just ask John Wall, Davis, Towns, Devin Booker, Cousins or any of the stars who feel the support everywhere they go and still visit as often as they can. La Familia.
— If we’re being honest, Big Blue Nation can get a little too passionate at times. If a player has a bad game, they’re going to read about it in their mentions on social media, mostly from adults. If the fans find out what a player drives, they might lick it. Nobody said BBN is perfect.
— I can’t think of anything else. Rush hour traffic can get pretty bad, I guess.
— While Kentucky has Coach Cal and the inside track to the NBA, he cannot actually relate to NBA stardom in a way Penny Hardaway can at Memphis. Penny was in Duren’s shoes, a high school sensation with the NBA on the brain, and he played at Memphis before becoming the third overall pick in the draft and an NBA All-Star. Hardaway also knows shoe deals and endorsements as one of the most marketable players of his era (Lil’ Penny was a 90s hit) and his signature Nike shoe is still a hot sneaker today.
— Memphis Basketball (the non-Grizzlies version) doesn’t have the support of a statewide power like the University of Kentucky, but Memphis does have FedEx money. FedEx already got in trouble as a Memphis booster under a past company president, so the school and the local Fortune Top 50 company are down to play the game. Now there is a legal path for FedEx to overpay Memphis student-athletes to appear in FedEx advertisements and I’d be shocked if Duren hasn’t already heard their proposal.
— As we’ve seen in the past, moving expenses are sometimes included with your Memphis scholarship. Not everyone gets relocation help, but James Wiseman got $11,500 to move three hours from Nashville to Memphis, so Duren has to be looking at close to $50K to move his belongings from Philadelphia.
— The other top uncommitted prospect, Emoni Bates, is also considering Memphis. Duren said they’ve talked about teaming up at either Memphis or the G League, though admitted it’s only small talk and not a priority.
I asked Jalen Duren last night if he and Emoni Bates had talked about teaming up at the next level (Memphis or G-League) and he said:
“We’ve talked a little bit…
I wouldn’t say it’s something we focus on strongly, but there’s been small talk.”
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) August 4, 2021
— Memphis BBQ.
— For all of the NBA and sneaker success on Penny’s resume, he hasn’t done much of anything as a college basketball coach, unless you get excited about winning the NIT, which Memphis did earlier this year. Hardaway is 63-32 in three seasons with zero NCAA Tournament appearances and finishes of fifth, fifth and third in the American Athletic Conference.
— In terms of player development, which Duren prioritizes, Hardaway has only had two players drafted in his first three seasons (Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa in 2020) and they’re only the second and third players drafted out of Memphis since Calipari left in 2009. Wiseman shouldn’t even count as a win for Penny; he left Memphis a month into his freshman season when he was ruled ineligible, and fell from the projected No. 1 pick to No. 2 in the actual draft.
— With rumors of Rasheed Wallace joining the Memphis staff, a fight could break out at any moment. Nobody wants to take a punch from a coach.
— The average basketball fan hasn’t seen a Memphis game since Calipari and Derrick Rose left. Memphis has half of the exposure as the blue blood college basketball programs, if that, and ESPN+ on a Sunday afternoon is not the ideal situation for someone trying to build a national brand in one year. Ask Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs what the NCAA tourney did for his draft stock, then re-read that part about Penny not making the tournament.
— Miami took a play from Oklahoma State’s playbook for Cade Cunningham and hired someone close to Duren as an assistant coach in an effort to lure him into a commitment. DJ Irving, who coached Duren in AAU and in high school, was hired by Miami to join Jim Larranaga’s staff as an assistant only four months ago. Irving has no college coaching experience, and was an assistant coach at his high school and AAU jobs. Smells fishy.
— It’s Miami.
— A lot of eyes will be on ACC basketball this season with the retirement of Coach K at Duke and the beginning of a new era at UNC. Duren could add another big draw to ESPN’s favorite conference.
— Miami has three straight losing seasons under Larranaga and the Canes haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2016. Four players transferred from last year’s 10-17 team, two of them left for better basketball in the Southeastern Conference (Chris Lykes to Arkansas, Nysier Brooks to Ole Miss).
— Miami has three first-round draft picks this century, none of them big men. Matter of fact, Miami has zero first-round draft picks at the power forward or center position in school history. If it’s about getting ready for the pros, Miami shouldn’t be on the list.
— Nobody cares. It’s a football school and all of the locals are busy sunbathing or clubbing or at the Heat game.
NBA G League
— The G League offers guaranteed money over relying on NIL deals, and G League money has improved since the NBA introduced the G League Ignite developmental program as an alternative to college basketball. Duren reportedly has a million dollar offer to play for Ignite head coach Brian Shaw out in Walnut Creek, California, just outside of Oakland.
— The G League already signed five-star guards Scoota Henderson and Jaden Hardy, two top-10 prospects in the Class of 2021, plus a five-star power forward in Michael Foster. Five-star small forward Emoni Bates is also considering the G League route, so the Ignite could start five of the best prospects at each position.
— The G League offers the closest experience to the NBA lifestyle. No schoolwork to balance on the side, only basketball with NBA resources against guys on the verge of making an NBA roster; some young, some old.
— There is no exposure in the G League whatsoever. Is it still on YouTube? Louisville Media Box? Can we even watch games? Would we watch games if we could watch games?
— 2021’s No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green thinks he would’ve been the first pick if he had gone to college. Green went through the Ignite program out of high school instead of the college route, and wrote on social media soon after: “I know for a fact if i went to college it woulda been a different talk about who goin number 1… it’s good tho, i loved the Gleague. it prepared me ahead of a college move. i (ain’t) gone stop working.” He deleted the post soon after, probably at the encouragement of the G League.
— If it doesn’t work after one year, then what? It worked in the first year for Green and Jonathan Kuminga, but what happens when it doesn’t? Back to another year of playing in the dark? We still haven’t seen the Ignite in a normal year, and how it actually works.
— Nobody on planet Earth cares. (Except a few locals who won tickets on the radio in Sioux Falls and Fort Wayne, maybe.)
— Looking at the NBL rosters, Duren would be competing against guys like 32-year-old AJ Ogilvy, the former Vandy star, and former UK center Isaac Humphries, the NBL’s second-leading scorer among big men last season. (Go Isaac.) Of the five possible destinations, the NBL is the safest from a competition standpoint.
— Like the G League, no homework.
— Sightseeing in Australia is beautiful. When not battling down low with Ogilvy and the Illawarra Hawks, there are beaches, islands, deserts and other natural wonders to explore on off-days. A few examples, Australia is home to over 500 natural parks, the world’s largest sand island, and Earth’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef.
— Australians say we’re really missing out on Tim Tams, their chocolate biscuits. So there’s that.
— The time change will be a big adjustment. If it’s noon on the east coast here in America, it’s 2 a.m. in Sydney, Australia. Staying in touch with friends and watching live American TV will be almost impossible. Nobody wants a “U up?” text at lunch.
— If the exposure in the G League is bad, imagine trying to get our attention while playing in the NBL. LaMelo Ball did it so he could keep selling Big Baller Brand but he wouldn’t need to go to Australia to do that now. RJ Hampton tried it the same year. Can anyone tell me one thing about RJ Hampton’s year in the NBL? He was a top-five player out of high school and got picked 24th because everyone forgot he was over there.
— Driving on the opposite side of the road will take some getting used to because Australian drivers sit on the right side of the car and drive on the left side of the road. Speaking from firsthand experience, it can be difficult for a first-timer and you can almost total a Camry while pulling out of Enterprise in front of three waving Enterprise employees.
— Nobody cares. They’re watching footy.
Duren will announce his final decision sometime Friday night between 6 and 7:30. I hope this helped.