RJ Hampton says NBL best route to NBA

By Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent
NBA draft prospect RJ Hampton has given the NBL's Next Stars program a big endorsement in the US

RJ Hampton has given the NBL a glowing endorsement, describing it as the best route to the NBA for young basketball stars.

The 19-year-old guard from Texas, expected to be a top-20 pick in next month's NBA Draft, said playing for the New Zealand Breakers and competing against veterans Andrew Bogut, Melo Trimble and Bryce Cotton was better NBA preparation than a year at Kentucky, Duke or other elite US colleges that courted him.

Hampton says he talked up the NBL while fielding calls from five other budding US stars contemplating playing in the Australasian league.

"I would always tell them, 'If you want to be a pro and if you want to optimise your ability in a short amount of time and get ready for the NBA I think this is the best route'," Hampton told 247Sports.

Hampton's words could help keep the NBL's Next Stars program alive.

The program led Hampton and potential NBA Draft top pick LaMelo Ball to play in the NBL last season, but it is under threat.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently unveiled a new G League pathway program in the US offering $US500,000 contracts and designed to deter future stars from playing in the NBL.

The NCAA is also looking to relax its strict amateur rules to allow student athletes to make money from endorsement deals.

Hampton, however, said banging bodies with veterans like Bogut in NBL games and going head-to-head in practices with Breakers team-mates Sek Henry and Scotty Hopson prepared him for the toughness of NBA.

"Playing with those type of guys like Andrew Bogut, Bryce Cotton, Melo Trimble, you pick up on things they do," he said.

"So when an NBA screen comes and hits me, a guy in college might not have been hit with a 10-12-year vet screen, because college screens are different than a 10-12-year pro vet screen." Hampton said the toughest part of his NBL stint came from the fact the team was located in New Zealand and had to endure long flights travelling to away games.

"Our flights every game were six and seven hours," he said.