Taking a break from a workout on a recent afternoon in St. Paul, Jalen Suggs and Dain Dainja had a hard time keeping straight faces. One would compliment the other, then vice versa, and then again. In this first season together as AAU teammates, the young metro-area basketball stars were having fun talking about causing trouble for opposing Under Armour Circuit teams.
Like most high-level prospects after their sophomore year in high school, they are getting their first true taste of big-time recruiting. The scholarship offers are flowing in and their phones are buzzing with calls and texts from college coaches.
Suggs, Dainja and their fellow Class of 2020 standouts, having observed this relentless process in years past, are more ready for this craziness than you might expect. One thing they aren’t prepared for, however, is a potential looming decision: take one of these scholarships, or go straight to the NBA? This 2020 class, if the push for rule change succeeds, likely will contain the first top prospects to ponder that question in over a decade.
Rewriting the NBA’s age-limit rule that essentially requires players to play one season of college basketball was among the top recommendations in April from the Commission on College Basketball, headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The proposal to end the “one-and-done” era was a conversation starter on many levels, and some high school sophomores already are talking about a possible decision to declare for the NBA draft after graduation.
“I’ve most definitely thought about it a lot,” said Suggs, the 6-5 Minnehaha Academy point guard and five-star prospect. “I’ve talked to my dad about it. We’ve had a couple conversations. The biggest thing for me is not being complacent. Staying in the gym and continuing to work on my craft. And whichever opportunity presents itself, just take the best one that’s on the table.”
Suggs and Dainja play with the Grassroots Sizzle 17-and-Under team, which competes in the Pangos All-American Camp in Norwalk, Calif., starting Friday. For the first time, the NBA certified that event, meaning pro scouts will get their first look at the Class of 2020 this weekend. That embrace from the NBA is seen by some as the first sign of the end to the one-and-done era.
Dainja, a 6-9, 240-pound Park Center big man, was one of the Class of 2020’s biggest surprises this spring, picking up new Power Five Conference offers seemingly every week. He can’t imagine having to list his favorite schools right now, let alone consider his NBA forecast.
“I’m not going to college next year,” the high school sophomore said. “I just have to keep working on my game and see whatever is there — if I had a chance to go to the NBA or play in college. Right now, I’m just focusing on my game.”
Dainja is a four-star prospect with loads of potential, but he’s not yet pegged as a future NBA prospect. It would take a serious jump in the rankings for him to be considered by NBA teams in two years. Meanwhile, Suggs is already as high as the No. 2 player in some 2020 rankings, only behind uber-athletic 6-5 guard Jalen Green from Fresno, Calif.
Most top-10 players in each class only spend one year in college. What if they didn’t have to?
Green told 247Sports.com last month: “I would take that if they were to change it. I would want to go pro.”
Suggs said it would be “a good thing” if they let high schoolers have the opportunity again.
“There have been special talents these past couple years who most definitely had the skill to go,” Suggs said. “But they’ve had to do that year in college. That’s just more time for them to get into dumb stuff or have silly injuries. With the rule [gone], once March comes around with your high school senior year, you pretty much know what you’re going to do. So you can take that time, if you’re going to go, you can start mentally and physically preparing your body. You can do that in college as well, but it’s just a lot easier and saves you a lot more time.”
The Rice Commission’s report is putting pressure on the NBA and NBA Players’ Association to consider opening the door for the first preps-to-pros class since 2005. It’s the NBA’s rule, not the NCAA’s, that prevents the leap. The rule requires a player to be 19, or one year removed from high school, in order to enter the draft.
Former Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell coached Green’s EBO AAU team this spring. He’s trying to prepare arguably the nation’s No. 1 prospect for whatever choice he makes in two years.
Mitchell said the best seniors will be able to transition to the NBA better than when Kevin Garnett started the trend as his Wolves teammate in 1995.
“Players today are more ready — hands down and no second thoughts,” Mitchell said. “I’m one of those who say going to school makes a difference, but college isn’t for everybody.”