Connor Hope | @CondorianFM | 07/29/2020
Last week, college basketball fans were treated to the surprising announcement that 2019-20 WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrusev had signed with Mega Bemax, a professional team in his home country of Serbia. Then, on Tuesday, the decision for Saint Mary’s guard Kristers Zoriks to sign with Latvian club VEF Riga was announced without much warning. While these two decisions are certainly fueled by the uncertainty of NCAA sports in the COVID era, they speak to the value foreign prospects put on their own professional leagues.
Earlier this summer, the entire college basketball world was reeling after multiple high level recruits made the decision to join the NBA’s developmental program, forgoing their college basketball seasons. Debates started over whether or not the G-League would pose a major threat to the popularity and talent in the NCAA.
Regardless of where you fell on the overall quality debate, nobody could deny the fact that multiple elite recruits would be missing every year moving forward. This, however, pales in comparison to the overall talent dip that would be experienced if foreign leagues continue to gain prominence, whether through attracting top American recruits like LaMelo Ball or producing top NBA players like Luka Doncic.
So why are foreign leagues more of a threat than the G-League? It all comes down to volume.
While the G-League will certainly attract the top recruits, it is unlikely to take on more than a couple dozen players at most. This assumes two full development rosters that can go and play exhibitions against official G-League teams.
In contrast, there are over 650 foreign born players in the NCAA every year, over 500 of whom come from countries other than Canada. For many of these players, the professional leagues in their own countries are stronger than the average talent level of the NCAA. With recent drafts producing some top foreign picks — Every draft since 2013 has had one international player picked in the top half of the first round — it isn’t unimaginable that the uncertainty caused by COVID could cause many of these players to avoid the NCAA altogether. This wouldn’t be limited to 25 players.
It will be interesting to see how the 2021 NBA Draft plays out, with the first group of G-League path players and more NCAA starting caliber players choosing to play in Europe and Australia. But there is reason to believe that a strong showing from foreign developed teams could change the face of the NCAA in a much bigger way than expected.
Connor Hope is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Bleacher Report and FanSided, among other publications. Hope is also a current Rockin’ 25 voter.